Success stories from Greek academia are few and far between at the best of times, and more so in the midst of the crisis, which has taken a heavy toll on university research and innovation programs.
Dimitris Kouretas, a professor of biochemistry and biotechnology at the University of Thessaly, is one of these few shining examples and was among 12 eminent researchers from 10 European Union countries that presented their findings at an event organized by the European Commission in Brussels on February 26 on innovation in the field of medicine and medical technology. The 12 scientists were selected from a list of 600 who submitted their proposals to the EC program, with Kouretas being the only representative from the entire southeast of Europe to be selected.
“It is certainly a great honor and recognition of our work,” Kouretas told Kathimerini ahead of his trip to Brussels.
Kouretas has worked at the University of Thessaly for the past 18 years, focusing his research more recently on the health benefits of local products and how these can raise their value and boost regional production.
“We champion localization rather than globalization,” Kouretas said, explaining his philosophy for promoting the attributes of local produce and products.
The biggest breakthrough made by Kouretas and his research team in this domain has been on processing the by-products of dairy manufacturing, particularly whey, which until now have mostly ended up being poured into rivers or streams, polluting the natural environment and generating a chain of negative effects on public health, crops and the quality of drinking water. The problem is particularly pronounced in Thessaly, one of Greece’s main cheesemaking regions.
Kouretas and his team spent years studying the makeup of the whey protein which results as a by-product during cheese production and using it to make a food with beneficial qualities.
Protected by an international patent, a description of the product and its multiple beneficial properties has been published by the British Food and Chemical Toxicology industry journal. The whey protein cake is currently available in processed form as the Feedback cake, the Cocoa Protein Cookie and the Feta Bar.
Kouretas sees far-reaching benefits in his team’s product, such as ridding the environment in dairy-producing areas of a dangerous source of pollution while simultaneously creating a highly nutritious food product. The scientists also says that the whey protein cakes can also be used as food aid to countries with high rates of malnutrition.
The work done by Kouretas and his team has not only impressed the technocrats in Brussels, but also Franco-German television network Arte, which is currently producing a documentary on the Greek researcher and his team, “for creating innovative food products that will bring 10 times more revenues to the Greek institution than he earns as a salary,” the film’s producers note on the benefits of the research to the University of Thessaly.