PepsiCo Greenhouse accelerator startup BioLumen teams up with Dr Robert Lustig on ‘super-expanding fiber’ that partially blocks fat, sugar absorption

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Picture credit: BioLumen
Picture credit: BioLumen

Related tags BioLumen prebiotic

Structured ‘super-expanding’ natural fibers that can capture fats and sugars in the stomach and prevent their absorption in the small intestine could help reduce calorie intakes and deliver digestive health benefits, claims the CEO of nutritional technology firm BioLumen, one of 10 startups selected by PepsiCo to participate in the fifth cohort of its Greenhouse Accelerator program.

Co-founded by serial entrepreneur Paolo Costa and Dr Robert Lustig​, a neuroendocrinologist and author of popular science books such as ‘Fat Chance: Beating the Odds against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease​,’ San Francisco-based BioLumen​ has engineered an ingredient combining natural polysaccharides that captures sugars and fats in the stomach.

These sugar and fats ‘micro-jelly-balls’ then navigate unabsorbed through the small intestine – where fats and sugars are usually digested and utilized by the body – and arrive in the large intestine.

Part of these encapsulated sugars and fats are then “released inside the colon, feeding the microbiome and increasing the bacterial production of beneficial short-chain fatty acids (a prebiotic function), while the rest of the unabsorbed trapped nutrients are naturally excreted (a caloric elimination function),”​ claims Costa, who said the company has been granted six patents.

He added: “We arrived early ​[to this technology], and so we were able to have a broader than usual​ [IP] coverage… That I am aware of, this caloric elimination technology has never been commercially used before. We hope to deploy it on the market as early as possible.”

Multiple possible delivery formats

He won’t disclose the ingredients used in the latest formulation (one published patent refers to “one or more hydrogel(s), soluble or insoluble fibers, waxes and/or gums…”)​, but says it could be supplied as a tablet or a powdered supplement to consume with a meal, or added to selected food products from chocolate spreads to jam and cookies. He added the formulation is based on GRAS (generally recognized as safe) natural polysaccharides.

BioLumen can be incorporated in tasty small snacks to be eaten during a meal, that would export to the rest of the foods in the stomach their sugar and fat absorbing properties. Or ​[you could include it] in a lower dosage, like 3%, in prepackaged foods such as Nutella, chocolates, jams, dressings, cookies, and breads. That 3% of BioLumen inside would be enough to wrap them in insoluble fibers once in the stomach; the intestine will ‘see’ many more fibers and many less sugars and fats.”

'The difference is that we are structured... It’s not just strings of fibers'

So what’s special about the fibers in BioLumen?

BioLumen is a combination of natural polysaccharides,” ​said Costa, who has thus far raised money from friends and family, the Indiebio biotech accelerator, and a private investor.

“The difference is that we are structured. That's the key. It’s not just strings of fibers. Professor Lustig, my co-founder, asks the following question all the time: Is apple sauce closer to apple juice or to an apple? 

“The correct answer is that it is much closer to apple juice. In applesauce, the structure of the apple fruit has been destroyed and your GI tract is going to absorb everything fast. Just adding back the fibers is not going to reverse that. Our difference is that we re-enmesh the apple sauce back into a fiber structure.”

What happens when you consume BioLumen with sugary, fatty, foods?

So what happens when we swallow BioLumen with sugary or fatty foods?

“In the stomach, BioLumen micro-bits get released, and then are expanding and absorbing the stomach sugar-rich fluids,” ​claims Costa. “Then they gel them inside and retain most of them during their subsequent navigation in the gastro-intestinal tract. Instead of quickly being absorbed in the duodenum, the upper part of the intestine, they keep leaking just a part of their content along the way."

He adds: “Once in the colon, they are going to leak much more of their sugars and those sugars now are going to feed the usually starved good bacteria there, which are responsible for the fermentation of the beneficial short chain fatty acids ​[such as butyrate]. 

“Most often these ‘good’ bacteria are starved because the duodenum eats them first as soon as they are out of the stomach. Instead, now BioLumen feeds them​,” claims Costa.

It must be kept in mind that our digestive system and its microbiome co-evolved for millions of years with hunter-gatherer foods that were rich and enmeshed in hard-to-break-down fibers and lacking in easy-to-absorb sugars. Therefore, the absorption percentage of food ingested in different parts of the gastrointestinal tract in our ancient past was quite different. We have the old intestine​ [of our Paleolithic ancestors] but​ [today consume] a quite different ​food [diet].”

Encouraging invitro test results... but no human trials yet

So what evidence does Costa have to support the above hypothesis? How easy is it to mimic the conditions in the stomach, the small intestine, and then the large intestine in an invitro setting, and has he conducted any human clinical trials that demonstrate either caloric reduction or digestive benefits? 

We do not have yet clinical trials performed on humans that show a caloric elimination​,” he says. “But the invitro ​[laboratory studies] are quite promising. Human tests are next. 

We hired a European contract research organization (CRO) that performs gastrointestinal simulations for pharma and nutraceutical companies, using the highly reputable SHIME ​[Simulator of the Human Intestinal Microbial Ecosystem] model. ​[SHIME is an invitro simulator model of the human digestion system]. They tested Biolumen from the top to all the way down [the digestive system].”

Invitro tests showed a meaningful increase in the production of the beneficial short chain fatty acid butyrate, says Costa.

So how much fat and sugar does BioLumen capture?

“Of course BioLumen does not succeed to absorb all​ the sugars​,” says Costa. “We are talking here in percentages. BioLumen is going to just decrease the percentage of sugars absorbed. Right now, 1g of BioLumen seems to be able to eliminate 5g of sugar. It means that 6 g of Biolumen per day would eliminate 30g of sugar daily. That would be already a quarter of US average daily sugar ingestion. That alone would reduce the average US person body weight by 15lbs per year."

Is there a downside?

As for preventing the absorption of some fats, could there be any downsides? Famously, for example, Olestra had both messy side effects (anal leakage) and inhibited the absorption of fat soluble vitamins.

BioLumen does not eliminate fat​,” stresses Costa. “It would just decrease the amount for absorption. But any caloric deprivation diet would do that.” 

As for messy side effects, he said, the fat stays locked within BioLumen's fiber structure when it is excreted by the body, so there should be no issues on this front: "The fat is inside the cellulose micro-spongelets. The intestine does not have any way to 'see' the fats and the sugars inside the fiber involucre. It just sees the fiber shell....that are like those natural seeds gathered and eaten by our ancestors  since the dawn of time."

Satiety and fullness

As for the physical sensation imparted by ‘super-expanding fibers,’ ​does BioLumen impact satiety in any way and if so, what’s the mechanism?

Definitively​,” claims Costa. “By consuming Biolumen, at any given moment you have a much bigger mass along the gastrointestinal tract… A lot of receptors and compounds along the way keep signaling that to the brain.”

PepsiCo's Greenhouse program

So what’s next?

"We really hope to be out some way in 2021," ​said Costa, ​who said he is looking at a direct to consumer launch, although other business models or partnerships are also a possibility.

Asked what BioLumen hopes to get out of working with PepsiCo in the CPG giant’s Greenhouse program​, he said: “We see in PepsiCo Greenhouse program a terrific opportunity​,” he says. “This PepsiCo latest batch selection is very heavy in the latest nutritional science discoveries, and makes it very clear that PepsiCo is quite committed to exploring consumer trends in health and nutrition.

“And Biolumen’s mission is exactly that. PepsiCo, as one of the words leading food and beverage companies, has tremendous expertise in food science, marketing, and distribution, and feel we can learn a lot from the mentors we’ll be working with.”

  • Read more HERE​ about PepsiCo's Greenhouse program and the other finalists in the fifth cohort, who will each receive $20,000 in grant funding and begin a six-month business program designed to accelerate their growth through personalized mentorship.

Related news

Show more

Related products

show more

 Pack in the protein. Prevent off-notes

Pack in the protein. Prevent off-notes

Content provided by ADM: Game-Changing Innovation in Nutrition | 10-May-2023 | White Paper

AccelFlex TM soy crisps are exceptional, high-quality soy ingredients that pack in protein while maintaining a clean taste.

Benefits in Focus: Immune Health

Benefits in Focus: Immune Health

Content provided by Kerry | 09-May-2023 | Infographic

Consumers of all ages cite immune health as a top benefit driving their purchases, along with improving gut/digestive health. Worldwide, specific health...

Related suppliers

Follow us


View more