Shengmin Sang, Ph.D. will use his grant funds to study oat products’ ability to prevent and combat chronic inflammatory diseases and the healthy compounds in apples.

Shengmin Sang, Ph.D., a professor of functional foods and human health at N.C. A&T’s Center of Excellence for Post-Harvest Technologies at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, has been awarded two grants totaling nearly $1 million from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Each grant will examine the effects of a type of food on disease prevention in humans, potentially offering significant new dietary options for preventing and treating disease.

The grants are awarded through USDA NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, a highly competitive research program.

“Increasing evidence shows that many chronic diseases are preventable, and diet plays a very important role in disease prevention and treatment,” Sang said. “The general public prefers dietary regimens, instead of drugs, for preventing or treating chronic diseases.”

The first, three-year grant of $499,000 will be used to develop novel functional oat products for consumers using germination and false-germination approaches. Preliminary data has shown that oat products can prevent and combat chronic inflammatory diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease and the colorectal cancer often associated with IBD, Sang said. Oats that have germinated, or begun to grow, have significantly more of the phytochemicals – plant-based chemicals that protect cells – that can boost oats’ anti-inflammatory properties.

The second, three-year grant of $499,975 will study the effects of the healthy compounds, or polyphenols, in apples on reactive carbonyl species (RCS) in humans. Some research shows that RCS can play a critical role in the development of many chronic diseases, such as diabetes and diabetic complications, Alzheimer’s disease, and cardiovascular disease. Studies in mice from Sang’s lab have shown that polyphenols from apples and other foods can efficiently trap RCS and prevent them from damaging proteins and lipids to generate the advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs play a role in the development of diabetes and diabetic complications and age-related illnesses, including atherosclerosis and chronic inflammatory diseases.

“It’s still largely unknown whether this happens in humans,” Sang said. “The goal of this study is to determine the effects of apple polyphenols on trapping RCS when eaten, and determine if they prevent AGEs accumulation in humans.”