iSelect hosts a Deep Dive webinar on a novel innovation topic on the first and third Wednesdays of each month at 9 a.m. central. Our most recent session focused on nutrition’s role in inflammation. Research shows that chronic inflammation may be the common factor in many diseases. At iSelect, we see nutrition and nutrition-based platforms as a supplementary therapy, and as a tactic for the prevention of disease. In this conversation with iSelect venture associate, Tom Bunn, we explore inflammation’s role in disease and nutrition’s role in mitigating that inflammation.

Tim Sprinkle: OK, today we have Tom Bunn here with iSelect Fund talking about the latest Deep Dive webinar we held last week. Tom, welcome. Can you tell me a little bit about what you all discussed on the webinar?

Tom Bunn: Sure. So, as you know, we’re interested in the biggest disease indications and how to solve them. And what we’ve found is that inflammation is really at the core of a lot of major disease states including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes. So we’re interested in the growing technologies around nutrition and what we eat and how those may or may not affect a propensity for somebody to contract those diseases.

TS: And when you say inflammation, just to get us all on the same page, really what are we talking about?

TB: Inflammation is just a natural part of the immune response, of our immune system. For thousands of years we’ve basically thought of inflammation as a very good thing. It’s like when you get a cut or you get a bug bite or you get frostbite, inflammation is your body’s natural response to ward those things off. But what we’ve found is that chronic low levels of inflammation over long periods of time contribute to a lot of major disease states, including the four major ones I just outlined. And increasingly there’s a growing connection between this chronic low-level inflammation and the likelihood of contracting those diseases or at least some correlation between inflammation and those diseases. 

For example, LDL cholesterol is something that comes from saturated or trans fats. And once those oxidize in the arteries, you get an immune response which forms the plaques that are the real killers. So the plaques that ultimately kill people are able to be traced back to those inflammatory foods that cause that response.

TS: And how is this trend playing out in terms of technology and what innovations are happening around this?

TB: So, the way I think of the technology here, from a nutritional point of view, is kind of in the realm of ingredients, in the realm of coaching, and in the realm of biomarkers. 

Obviously eating better ingredients improves health outcomes. For example, one of our portfolio companies is a company called Bonumose, which makes rare sugars at scale. These are sugars that have the sweetness profile of our favorite sucrose, but have much fewer calories and a much lower glycemic index, which makes the inflammatory response much lower. Ultimately, they’re much healthier for you. So on the ingredients front, I think there’s a lot going on that we’re interested in around reducing the impacts of sugar.

But apart from that, there’s also the coaching side, connecting people with chronic disease states to 24/7, 365 attention from nutritionists. These are people who are there whenever the patient needs them to consult on best practices from a nutritional standpoint. And one step beyond that is the coaching that not only uses a nutritionist around the clock, but also couples that with biomarkers. There are a couple of companies today using microbiome samples in conjunction with nutritionists to really optimize the coaching for the patient’s unique body and nutritional needs. 

Those are the kinds of things we’re looking at but there are some other technologies we’ve looked at that aren’t directly related to nutrition per se. Such as devices measuring ketones in the blood or some therapeutics that are not nutritional but could enhance the microbiome or could limit the inflammatory response by one mechanism or another. 

TS: Interesting. And all really based around the body’s natural response. It’s interesting stuff. Well, Tom, I appreciate the overview and I will talk to you later. Thanks.

TB: Great. Thanks, Tim.