$22.4m in new funding for priority programmes in nutrition science challenge

The High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge has announced $22.4 million research investment funding for four successful Priority Research Programmes, all science and business collaborations.  Each will receive research investment over the next five years as part of the second phase of the challenge.

During phase 1 of the challenge (2014-2019), the research teams and their industry partners were focused on the development of new methodologies and biomarkers intended to show the health benefits of foods in targeted areas, such as Type 2 Diabetes and Functional Gut Disorders (FGDs).

The focus for phase 2 (2019-2024) will be on human clinical studies of food and beverage interventions in New Zealand, Singapore and China. This approach will build new partnerships between Chinese and New Zealand researchers and agencies.

High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge director Joanne Todd says this new investment builds on the excellent research outcomes from phase 1 of the Challenge.

“The new funded programmes are exciting and innovative while also reflecting the Challenge’s aim to continue to establish New Zealand as an international leader in understanding food-for-health relationships and develop food that helps people to stay healthy and well,” she says. 

Digestive Health Programme

Principal Investigator – Professor Nicole Roy, AgResearch

Collaborating Organisations: Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, Plant & Food Research, the University of Auckland, University of Otago, Massey University, Edible Research Ltd

Research Investment: $6.5 million over five years.

In phase 1, the Digestive Health research programme focused on understanding the linkages between diet, gastrointestinal symptoms and disorders, metabolism, physiology and microbial populations (the microbiome) to better predict food-health gastrointestinal relationships. This will enable the New Zealand food and
beverage industry to predict the gastrointestinal health benefits of foods and ingredients and generate validated scientific evidence of these health benefits.

Nicole Roy, Principal Scientist and Science Team Leader of the High-Value Nutrition Digestive Health Programme based at AgResearch, says phase 2 of the programme will expand on the research from phase 1 and will include identifying products with the potential to benefit digestive health and contribute to the export of high-value foods, and therefore increase export revenue.

Products from Zespri International (green kiwifruit) and the a2 Milk Company (bovine milk) are among New Zealand food and beverage products which are targeting digestive health that are establishing health messaging based on reputable New Zealand research.

Infant Health Programme

Principal Investigator – Associate Professor Clare Wall, The University of Auckland

Collaborating organisations: AgResearch, Plant and Food Research, Massey University, Malaghan Institute for Medical Research

Research Investment: $4.4 million over five years.

In the first phase of this research, kūmara was identified as a complementary food which could support the development of beneficial microbiota (‘gut bugs’). A pilot study involved 40 babies before they started on solid food. Thirty of them consumed the kūmara complementary feeding product over a six-month period, and 10 infants received a probiotic control. The babies’ feeding behaviour, health status and biological samples were collected at three time points (baseline, then three months and six months after commencing solid food).

The pilot study showed it is feasible to recruit infants, feed a known prebiotic food to infants over a six-month period, and collect biological samples and health information, which allows scientists to measure immune efficacy of the complementary food. The study has also demonstrated the importance of the collaboration of scientists with expertise in clinical research, immunology, metabolomics and microbiomics.

The phase 2 programme presents opportunities for food and beverage companies to consider the development of other suitable complementary feeding products with known prebiotic properties, says High-Value Nutrition Challenge Director Joanne Todd. These food products can be tested in the planned Randomised Controlled Clinical Trials in New Zealand and Asia in phase 2 through 2019-2024.

The aim of the new programme is to explore the impact of complementary foods on infant health, focusing on immunity and a reduced number of infections in early life.

Immune Health Programme

Principal Investigator: Dr Olivier Gasser, Malaghan Institute of Medical Research

Collaborating Organisations: Cawthron Institute, AgResearch Ltd Research

Research investment: $5 million over five years

In phase 1, the High-Value Nutrition Immune Health programme focused on gaining a wider understanding of the influence of diet on lung health, mediated either directly by food bioactives or indirectly via changes to the gut microbiota.

Air pollution and associated threats to general health and productivity, including an increased risk of metabolic and cardiovascular disease, are of significant importance to Chinese consumers.

The phase 1 programme established mechanisms to evaluate the beneficial effect of different foods and food-derived bioactives to combat air pollution-driven inflammation, which highlights the opportunity of the New Zealand food and beverage industry to engage in this emerging and substantial market.

In phase 2 this programme will conduct clinical studies to assess the ability of selected New Zealand-produced foods to protect Chinese customers from the harmful effects of air pollution.

Chronic exposure to airborne pollutants is a big threat to the Chinese population, impacting not only on lung health, but more recently being associated with metabolic disease, says Dr Gasser.

The planned studies will investigate the impact of selected foods on pollution associated systemic inflammation and metabolic co-morbidity.

Another important aim of the Immune Health programme is to establish an immunological analysis platform which can be used by the other High Value Nutrition health themes, says Dr Gasser.  The research team is leveraging the comprehensive banking of samples from completed human studies to create an analysis pipeline to understand the complex relationship between food, the microbiome and the human immune system.

High-Value Nutrition director Joanne Todd says this depth of analysis has never been achieved before and attests to the science  excellence the team have been building over the years, in collaboration with various HVN partner institutions such as AgResearch and Plant and Food Research, as well as the New Zealand food and beverage industry.

Metabolic Health Programme

Principal Investigator: Professor Sally Poppitt, The University of Auckland

Collaborating organisations: AgResearch, Plant and Food Research, University of Otago/Capital and Coast DHB

Research investment: $6.5 million over five years.

The Metabolic Health programme aims to identify food and beverage strategies that can prevent adverse metabolic health.  The overarching theme is the prevention of type 2 diabetes in susceptible consumers; with a focus on high-risk Chinese adults.

In phase 1 the programme investigated the nutritional problem of weight gain and the development of type 2 diabetes in Asian communities, working with New Zealand companies such as the NUKU ki te PukuTM Māori business cluster and Fonterra Co-operative Ltd, targeting improved metabolic health.

Weight gain, a growing problem in New Zealand and many other rapidly ‘westernising’ countries, is of particular concern to Asia.  In China alone almost one of three individuals are struggling with their weight, and across Asia 300 million people have been diagnosed with diabetes, many in the new urban mega cities, says Professor Sally Poppitt, High-Value Nutrition team leader of the Metabolic Health programme.

Type 2 diabetes, caused primarily through poor lifestyle habits, can be prevented through better nutrition.  Many Asian consumers risk increases even while young and outwardly quite slim.  The cause may lie in deposition of body fat within ‘unsafe’ stores, such as the important organs of pancreas and liver, which has been termed the TOFI profile where individuals are ‘Thin on the Outside yet Fat on the Inside’.

Identifying early predictive markers of type 2 diabetes is the first step in developing new opportunities for food and beverage companies.

In phase 2 of the research programme through 2019-2024, studies will be conducted in Chinese individuals resident in New Zealand through international collaborations with research teams in China.

Phase 1 identified that many in the cohort had early biomarkers of pre-diabetes, plus lipid overspill into the pancreas and liver in a sub-cohort of women. The researchers also found that pancreatic and liver fat may be important early predictors of metabolic health and diabetes risk.

High Value Nutrition National Science Challenge director Joanne Todd says the programme team will work closely with industry stakeholders to identify priority foods to further grow industry investment in High-Value Nutrition.

Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog

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