High-Value Nutrition researchers tackle global health problems

25 September 2017

Two teams of the country’s top scientists are taking on two major global health issues: the tsunami of diabetes in Asia and how the right nutrition can boost immunity to the flu in research supported by the High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge.

Challenge Chief Scientist Professor Martin Kussmann said, “We’re bringing together the best researchers in the country to work on some very innovative science.”

Professor Sally Poppitt, director of the Human Nutrition Unit at the University of Auckland and a member of the science leadership team of the High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge is investigating the TOFI profile in a cohort of 400 Chinese and Caucasian adults. TOFI stands for Thin on the Outside, Fat on the Inside. Despite appearing thin, those with this condition remain at high risk of developing diabetes.

The early indications are that the research has identified markers that may predict Type 2 diabetes. If the research succeeds it creates opportunities for the New Zealand food and beverage sector. The research team is working closely with companies exporting food and beverages to Asia and has identified several important nutritional opportunities, including dairy-based proteins, plant-origin complex carbohydrates and phytochemical flavonoids.

If these food elements reduce risk of diabetes, then New Zealand Inc. may have a significant opportunity for a new class of high-value foods for export to Asian markets. The global diabetes market is forecast to be worth $45 billion by 2020, with Asia driving much of this growth, with around 300 million people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

Dr Olivier Gasser, also a member of the High-Value Nutrition science leadership team, leads researchers from the Malaghan Institute, AgResearch and Plant and Food, investigating the relationship between foods and our immune system. Their triple goal is to understand how New Zealand foods can help the microbiome enhance vaccination; reduce respiratory illness triggered by polluted air and accurately understand the immune response in our lungs from diesel and urban dust, which is relevant to allergy research.

If Dr Gasser and the team can establish a clear relationship between food and the effectiveness of flu vaccine or food and protective properties when breathing in polluted air, it would create significant opportunities for the country’s food and beverage sector.

Professor Kussmann, Poppitt and Dr Gasser are among the researchers speaking at the High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge annual conference, Nutritional science fuelling innovation at the Grand Millennium Hotel, Auckland on Monday 25 September and Tuesday 26 September.

Media inquiries: Gilbert Wong, gilbert.wong@auckland.ac.nz  or 021 917942

High-Value Nutrition is the National Science Challenge with the job of building the science excellence and knowledge New Zealand needs to create and deliver foods to the world that people choose to stay healthy and well. It has funding of $83.8m over 10 years to champion mission-led science to support high-value food exports.