The High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge has today announced a $22.4 million research investment funding for four successful Priority Research Programmes; which are all science and business collaborations, and will each 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 (F&B) 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 that 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.

From studies conducted both in New Zealand and also in market in China, the research team expects that this new HVN priority research programme funding will enable the research teams to continue to assist Māori and non-Māori food and beverage entities. It will also make a significant contribution to a range of large and SME companies in New Zealand’s F&B sector, whose focus is export into Asia of high-value foods. The four funded priority research programmes are summarised below:

Digestive Health Programme
Principal Investigator – Professor Nicole Roy, AgResearch
Collaborating Organisations: University of Otago, Massey University, Plant & Food Research, Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, the University of Auckland and Edible Research Ltd
Research Investment: $6.5 million over 5 years

Focused on improving gut function and comfort, phase 2 of the programme will expand on the research from phase 1 which 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. The programme will undertake a series of clinical trials to prove product benefits on digestive health, in particular on gut comfort.

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 5 years

Phase 1 of the research focused on the feasibility of evaluating the impact of complementary foods given during weaning on the development of infants, with the aim of improved immunity and a reduced number of infections in early life.

Phase 2 of the programme will use the learnings from the feasibility study to conduct complimentary feeding trials of prebiotic foods in infants. The trials will investigate how specific prebiotic components of weaning foods impact on the development of the gut microbiota and how this links to immune health and wellbeing in infants.

The planned Randomised Controlled Clinical Trials will be conducted in  New Zealand and Asia  through 2019-2024.

Immune Health Programme Principal Investigator: Dr Olivier Gasser, Malaghan Institute of Medical Research
Collaborating Organisations: Cawthron Institute, AgResearch Ltd,
Research Investment $5m over five years

This programme uses a systems immunology approach to drive clinical outcomes. 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 and it not only impacts lung health, but has been more recently associated with metabolic disease as well. The planned studies will investigate the impact of selected foods on pollution associated systemic inflammation and metabolic co-morbidity. The programme will also develop a unique immunological analysis platform that will underpin the other health programmes.

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 5 years

Identifying early predictive markers of type 2 diabetes has been the first step in developing new opportunities for food and beverage (F&B) companies. F&B interventions will continue as a central focus of phase 2 of the HVN program through 2019-2024; extending studies conducted in Chinese individuals resident in New Zealand through international collaborations with research teams in China. A desire for high value foods, identified by HVN Consumer Insights in Chinese consumers as ‘balanced, light tasting, with high quality ingredients’ as part of a ‘desire to take control’ of their diet and their health, leads this priority research programme in metabolic health.

High-Value Nutrition is one of the eleven National Science Challenges. The Challenge has an $45.6 million budgeted research investment over the next five years.