2022 Innovator of the Year Award: Rafael Jimenez-Flores
Rafael Jimenez-Flores’ work in the biochemistry of milk could lead to better, healthier infant formula. His team at The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) Department of Food Science and Technology has improved the method of isolating milk-fat globule membrane, and this work has led to Jimenez-Flores receiving the 2022 CFAES Innovator of the Year Award.
Jimenez-Flores is the J.T. “Stubby” Parker Chair in Dairy Foods at CFAES.
“To win this award means a lot to me,” he said, “because it recognizes the team efforts of my group, the postdoctoral fellows, the PhD and the master’s students. We all work as a team to complete the objectives—in this case, to further the knowledge of how these bioactive components in milk work to the benefit of human health.”
The Innovator of the Year Award recognizes scientists who have created innovations that have or will have a major impact on agricultural production, business, rural communities, technology, or the health and well-being of animals and humans. The award comes with a $1,000 cash prize and $3,000 toward operating expenses for a lab.
Milk-fat globule membrane, or MFGM, “has been clinically proven to improve the gut health of the baby, and most important, to enhance the cognitive development compared to formula fed infants (almost the same as those raised with mother’s milk),” Jimenez-Flores said.
His research also could have implications for seniors and others. Other possible benefits of MFGMs from cow milk include prevention of cardiovascular disease and age-associated cognitive decline and muscle loss.
This membrane “is present in the milk of all mammals: humans, cows, goats, elephants, whales. And it has about the same composition, which is what intrigues us,” he said.
Jimenez-Flores was born in Mexico City and studied at La Salle University; Cornell University; and the University of California, Davis. He came to Ohio State from California Polytechnic State University, where he spent 23 years in the dairy science department.
He is author of 142 peer-reviewed scientific papers and several book chapters. In his five years at Ohio State, his work has received $2.7 million in awards and two patents.