Asia's first centre that covers cellular to whole body nutrition research across the entire food chain was launched yesterday.

The Clinical Nutrition Research Centre (CNRC) comes on the heels of other research and development (R&D) centres set up by leading nutrition companies such as Abbott and Danone. CNRC will focus on understanding and developing solutions to metabolic diseases, obesity and Type 2 diabetes, with the Asian population in mind.

"Type 2 diabetes is a major pandemic amongst Asians that has been underestimated in impact," said CNRC's director Jeyakumar Henry. Its deputy director Melvin Leow added that Type 2 diabetes mainly stems from obesity.

With its focus on Asians, in broad terms the Chinese, Malays and Indians, the centre can tap Singapore's unique multi-racial make-up. Products in development include bread, rice and steamed buns that are low in glucose response, as well as appetite suppressants that reduce an individual's desire to eat.

The centre is a $20 million joint venture between the Singapore Institute of Clinical Sciences (SICS) and the National University Health Systems. SICS is an institute within the Agency for Science, Technology and Research.

CNRC will be a research platform for SiNMeD, a collaborative centre established last October between SICS and and the National University of Singapore's Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. With a committed funding of $148 million over the next three years, SiNMeD focuses on the links between nutrition, human development and metabolic diseases.

According to Prof Henry, around $30-40 million of the total funding will be for CNRC's research. There are also plans to offer a new post-graduate programme in nutritional sciences, with CNRC as its core facility. He said the centre will provide the food industry with science-based ideas to develop healthier products suited for the Asian palette.

Since its inception, CNRC has tied up with several major industry players including BENEO Asia Pacific, Danone, DSM, Nestlé and Mead Johnson.

To reverse the impact of non-communicable diseases, Prof Henry said it was necessary for the industry to work with scientists. "Private-public partnership is going to be more important in the years to come."