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June 17, 2020
This paid piece is sponsored by South Dakota Biotech.
Dr. Bill Harris, the founder and president of Sioux Falls-based OmegaQuant, has been named to the Class of 2020 Fellows by the American Society of Nutrition.
For more than 40 years, Harris’ research has focused primarily on understanding the role of omega-3 fatty acids in lowering risk for cardiovascular disease. He has been the principal investigator on five omega-3 related grants from the National Institutes of Health and currently has 300 omega-3 related publications.
He also was a co-author on three American Heart Association advisory statements on omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and heart health.
In 2004, Harris and his colleague, Dr. Clemens von Schacky, developed and have since continued to validate the Omega-3 Index — a measure of EPA and DHA in red blood cells — as a new risk factor for cardiovascular and perhaps neurocognitive disorders.
In 2009, he founded OmegaQuant Analytics LLC, to offer fatty acid testing services to researchers, health care providers and consumers.
The ASN Class of 2020 Fellows will be honored during a virtual meeting this summer and again at the flagship meeting for the American Society for Nutrition in July 2021 in Boston.
“We are delighted to recognize these extraordinary individuals as Fellows of the American Society for Nutrition,” said ASN president Richard D. Mattes. “Over the course of their careers, their discoveries and contributions have not only advanced the science and practice of nutrition, but also inspired countless professionals who have followed in their paths. We celebrate their achievements and the innovations they have brought to our field.”
We caught up with Dr. Bill Harris for more on what’s new with his company and his research.
Congratulations on being named to the 2020 Fellows group. What was your reaction to the recognition?
It’s a great honor to receive the highest recognition that the American Society for Nutrition bestows for those scientists who have contributed significantly to the science of nutrition. There have been only 400 people elected as Fellows in the last 70 years, so this is a rather select group. For me, this validates the importance of the scientific contribution that we’ve been able to make linking omega-3 and human health.
OmegaQuant was named one of the fastest-growing companies last year by the Inc. 5000. What are some of the new developments in your research work?
OmegaQuant continues to be heavily involved in research to advance the science of fatty acids as well as measuring blood levels of these important nutrients. We believe everyone should have access to a safe, simple, convenient test that can help them – whether as patients or health-conscious consumers – take action to get more omega-3s in their diet. Our long-term goal is for a low Omega-3 Index to be officially recognized as a risk factor for heart disease, just like a cholesterol. This has been our mission from day one, which is why we have collaborated with more than 100 research institutions to build the evidence for the Omega-3 Index. To date, the Omega-3 Index has been used as the standard measure of omega-3 status in more than 200 studies, and we have many more to go. It is our hope that the Omega-3 Index will be the standard of care for those with heart issues in the near future.
What kind of demands are your seeing for your signature omega-3 test? The last time we checked in, you had just expanded your Sioux Falls office and had added a robot to package and ship the test worldwide.
Our omega-3 tests continue to gain awareness among health care providers and consumers. We have spent a considerable amount of time and resources disseminating educational information not only about the importance of omega-3s in the diet, but also about how crucial it is to know your status. Only when you know your Omega-3 Index can you take the steps necessary to improve your diet. Over the last year, we have more than doubled our website sales of our tests, and we are on pace to continue that trend. We believe this growth is a testament to the value people continue to place on self-care and personalized nutrition.
Much of the bioscience community has been focused on COVID-19 research and development. Does OmegaQuant have a role to play in that effort?
In the context of COVID-19, we hear a lot about “flattening the curve,” and that’s in a sense what the omega-3s EPA and DHA do within your body as it responds to infections. In other words, there is good reason to believe that a higher omega-3 status could help prevent the overstimulation of the inflammatory response to this virus. That is, omega-3s help provide an environment for what some call a “Goldilocks” response: not too much and not too little, but just right.
The link between Omega-3 Index levels and the severity of COVID-19 symptoms or lethality is a question we are just now beginning to study in partnership with colleagues in California, New York and Florida. Until we know more, the best advice is to wash your hands, watch your social distance and keep eating a healthy diet including omega-3s!
What’s next for OmegaQuant? Where do you see the company going?
We continue to explore opportunities that pair nicely with our omega-3 tests. Last year, we developed our Prenatal DHA test for expectant moms to help them identify and optimize their own – and ultimately their babies’ – omega-3 levels. In addition, we are hoping to unveil other nutrient tests later this year, such as vitamin D. We are also considering nutrients like choline, vitamin K2 and lutein.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I think it’s important to recognize that our company, OmegaQuant Analytics, is not just another lab that can generate a blood test number and give it to the doctor or consumer. We represent a unique blend of a research and commercial organization that seeks to ultimately get everyone’s Omega-3 Index optimized. We don’t sell fish oil supplements – we sell information – information that empowers people to take control of their own health destiny. This will have important health and longevity effects across the world.
From a big national honor to research related to COVID-19, a lot has been happening at this Sioux Falls biotech firm.