Detection of known and unknown (un)natural bioactives infood supplements 

Food supplements are a wide variety of herbal preparations, capsules and tablets, with or without a specific therapeutic indication. They are produced by many manufacturers and sold through different channels including internet. Adulteration of herbal-based food supplements with synthetic compounds frequently occurs, especially for products sold as performance enhancers (sports), products for erectile dysfunction, and weight loss products. The number of natural bioactive substances and potential adulterants is enormous. This makes the quality and safety control of food supplements a very challenging task.

The presence of bioactive substances, either synthetic or natural, can
be investigated by two complementary approaches:
1) detection of the bioactive substances by chemical/instrumental
2) detection of a biological effect through bioassays.

This internship project will focus on food supplements sold as
performance enhancers and/or for weight control. For these supplements,
adulteration with adrenergic substances is known to occur.

The aim of this internship is to
1) develop, in parallel, a chemical and a biochemical method for
efficient detection of both known and unknown adrenergic substances in food supplements
2) compare the effectiveness of the two approaches for real samples
3) identify unknown adulterants

Contact: Hans Mol: / Toine Bovee
Cluster: Natural Toxins & Pesticides (NTP) / Bioassays
Date: 2016

Tasks, techniques, and activities

  • Brief literature review
  • Selection/testing of most suitable bioassay for detection of adrenergic substances
  • Establishing relative potency of known adulterants and adrenergic drugs
  • Assessment of suitability of bioassay for detection of adrenergic substances in herbal-based food supplements
  • Improvement of an existing method for chemical detection of known adulterants in food supplements based on liquid chromatography with full scan high resolution mass spectrometry (LC-HRMS, Orbitrap)
  • Analysis of real samples using both approaches/methods
  • Investigation of cases where the outcome of the bioassay cannot be explained by known suspects identification of unknown adulterants) using high resolution fractionation and dentification based on LC-HRMS
  • Report and presentation of the results obtained (EN or NL)

What we are asking

  • Enthusiastic student with a background in (bio)analytical chemistry (BSc, MSc)
  • Flexible team player feeling comfortable in position to bridge two expertise groups
  • Basic knowledge of chromatography and mass spectrometry
  • Availability for a period of at least five months

What we offer
Expert guidance during the internship in a state-of-the art food/feed safety laboratory. Working in a multidisciplinary environment.