Australian dairy farmers could become major suppliers of pharmaceutical-grade lactose, if a new technology developed at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) can be exploited commercially.
The CSIRO has developed a new way of extracting lactose from whey, a by-products of the cheese industry. Australia's dairy industry generates thousands of tonnes of whey a day, which is converted to low-grade lactose, whey powder or discarded as waste, and the new technology was developed in response to stronger environmental standards on environmental sustainability.
Using ion exchange, nanofiltration, chromatography and crystallisation, CSIRO scientists have identified a way of isolating high-purity lactose, as well as minerals and calcium salts, from whey. Lactose is used in pharmaceuticals as a tablet/capsule diluent and filler and can be found in a wide range of injectable, inhaled and topical formulations.
Lead researcher Jim Hourigan, from the University of Western Sydney's Centre for Advanced Food Research (CAFR), said: "we completed all stages on the research bench, plus pilot testing, and are now ready for full-scale manufacture. A key development was the granting of a US patent for the technology, which meant it was well protected and provided a secure base for investors."
Hourigan added that the technology could be extended to the sugar, wine and fruit and vegetable industries to allow the extraction of peptides, fructo-oligosaccharides, natural flavours, pigments, anti-bacterial proteins, phenolic antioxidants, sugars, organic acids and mineral salts, which are potentially of use to the pharmaceutical and health industries.