Challenge takes whole-systems approach to research

06 November 2017
Our whole-systems approach to High-Value Nutrition research

High-Value Nutrition outlines a whole-systems approach to research that sits across the Challenge research themes in its annual report released today.

Since its launch in 2014, the High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge has matured from a set of good projects into an integrated programme grouped under a common theme. Our big science picture sees us take a whole systems approach, to investigate and profile complex and common health issues. We can then identify New Zealand foods and food components that can help people here and overseas stay healthy and well. By doing this we build research excellence and capability, and support the ability for New Zealand to lift the export revenue earned from the quality food we produce. High-Value Nutrition’s science leadership team reflects this integrated, collaborated approach, with members from the University of Auckland, AgResearch, Plant and Food Research, Massey University, led by Professor Martin Kussmann, of the Liggins Institute.

We are developing food prototypes, focusing on infant, metabolic, digestive and immune health. All of our projects relate to the scientific interface of immunity and metabolism, which together with the gut-brain connection, allows us to target the complex interactions that govern how we digest food and absorb and deliver nutrients to keep our body functioning well.

Our programme approach, bringing researchers and institutions to work collaboratively on a shared mission means that High-Value Nutrition acts as a key facilitator for better linkages in the nutrition science ecosystem and not simply a funding mechanism.  In our first phase the focus has been to bring research teams and institutions that traditionally compete for funding to collaborate to build the best research teams possible, both nationally and internationally.

The four health-focussed research platforms sits alongside our food and consumer science programmes so we know that the food prototypes and research insights we develop and discover meet the needs of our current and future consumers and industry partners. It will be the role of industry to work with our research teams to develop and deliver high-value New Zealand food products that people in our major markets, and specifically in Asia, choose to stay healthy and well.

The Challenge has also funded or co-funded seven contestable research projects with shorter time frames. By partnering with major and emerging New Zealand food companies, our approach has been to enhance the value of existing foods by identifying additional health and wellness benefits. The companies range from the Maori-owned and operated milk company, Miraka to GreenshellTM mussels. The contestable research projects have shorter time frames and are closer to market. They are already identifying new biomarkers with potential to add value to foods consumers in our key markets find familiar.

While the priority research programmes with a 10-year horizon aim to create the research foundation for New Zealand foods to not only be safe and produced efficiently, but also enjoy added value to consumers due to health benefits, supported by science.

Our programme includes an innovative Vision Mātauranga strategy that sees the Challenge partner with Māori food cluster Nuku kit e Puku to explore how to drive innovation through research. Insights from this partnership will be embedded across the Challenge research.

To date industry partners have invested $805,000 in addition to in kind products and subject matter experts’ time, in contestable research projects.

At HVN our research not only bridges gaps in New Zealand science and builds local expertise, it also connects science to innovation. Whilst acting locally all HVN research teams are thinking globally. Utilising international expertise to strengthen research methodology, presenting research outcomes at high profile conferences around the world and being in touch with what consumers of NZ export products are looking for now and in the future. We are bringing a common whole-system scientific approach to a diverse range of disciplines. By doing this we promote “additionality”, by bringing researchers together as team members rather than competitors.