NICHOLASVILLE — Pearse Lyons' idea is that what you eat eventually might be "driven by Sel-Plex," a phrase that will become as ubiquitous as "powered by Pentium" was in reference to your computer.
Or it could be that you will get a Sel-Plex prescription to lessen the effects of early Alzheimer's disease.
It's not a modest dream for the founder of Alltech. Lyons' ambitions are rarely subtle: Have your company sponsor an international horse competition in Lexington (the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games), build a school in Haiti (which he says he's considering) and launch your company's first human supplement with one that could have effects on health problems like Alzheimer's disease and cancer.
A variety of selenium is already available on any pharmacy shelf. But it's not Alltech's Sel-Plex organic selenium, Lyons pointed out in a recent interview. There's a difference: Sel-Plex has a proprietary formula that involves processing the selenium with yeast, which Lyons said enhances its effectiveness.
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Since Alltech's beginnings in a Lexington office in 1980, the company has been a supplier of ingredients to animal feed companies.
Now, the company is taking on the most complicated animal of them all: the human.
The company is collaborating with the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky on studies of the Sel-Plex supplement for its beneficial effect on Alz heimer's brains. The studies have been encouraging: Mice on the Sel-Plex diet have less of the type of plaque associated with the brain disease.
But the Food and Drug Administration approval process for Sel-Plex for humans — either as a food additive or a prescription for early stage Alzheimer's — is complex. The various stages of study and approval would take a minimum of three years, said Dr. Greg Jicha, a neurologist and researcher at Sanders-Brown who will help Alltech design its initial human study.
He said the Alzheimer's field is ripe for drugs that will be game-changers in the pharmaceutical industry.
"The first one that grabs that holy grail becomes the standard of care," he said.
Sel-Plex alone might not do the trick, Jicha said.
But he added that Sel-Plex could be one of the drugs that form a cocktail combination that gives early stage Alz heimer's patients a valuable commodity: time. Giving an Alzheimer's patient additional months or years with brain clarity would be worth an almost incalculable amount, both to families who want more time with Alzheimer's patients and a health care system that has to care for more seriously impaired patients.
"Reality is, it's much more beneficial for the public at large for us to go into the food chain," said Lyons.
Imagine Sel-Plex in everything from your milk to your meat: While Sel-Plex milk (called "Selk"), Sel-Plex-enriched eggs and Sel-Plex pork are available abroad, the only product enriched by Sel-Plex available in Lexington is beef from an Alltech Angus herd fed with Sel-Plex. (It's available at Critchfield Meats as tenderloin, rib-eye steaks and filet mignon.)
Lyons sees "Sel-Plex-enriched" as the "plus Vitamin D" of the future. It could be like Eggland's Plus eggs, he says — those eggs with the special stamp and higher levels of nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E, B2 and B12, along with lower levels of saturated fat and cholesterol.
Ronan Power, Alltech's research director, sees the possibilities for Sel-Plex-enriched cheese and ice cream as well.
"Everything is about protection," Lyons said. "The body is more than capable of protecting itself if the immune system is up and running.
"There's a myriad of studies that need to be done as we move it to the next level."
The late William Markesbery, for more than 30 years the director of the Sanders-Brown Center, was encouraging about Sel-Plex's potential early on, Lyons said.
Mark Lovell, a chemistry professor and researcher at Sanders-Brown's animal research center, continues to study the effects of various substances, including Sel-Plex, on the Alzheimer's brain. As he spoke in his research office recently, tumbling out onto paper in the next room were data about proteins in the cerebrospinal fluid of Alz heimer's patients.
The next batch of Sel-Plex mice will begin yielding data in three months, he said. "It's exciting for me to see the effect in the animal model," Lovell says.
Plans for the initial Sel-Plex trial, one of three phases in the FDA approval process, should take shape within the next few months, Jicha said.