Immune Health

Immune Health Priority Research Programme


Research Team

Dr Olivier Gasser

Olivier is the Translational Immunology Group Leader at the Malaghan Institute in Wellington and principal investigator of the Challenge Immune Health programme. His research interests lie in the bidirectional communication between the immune system and host metabolism, with a strong emphasis on the gut and its resident microbes.

NameOrganisationORCID ID
Dr Olivier GasserMalaghan Institute
Professor Sally PoppittUniversity of Auckland
Dr Matt MillerCawthron Institute
Dr Tom WheelerCawthron Institute
Dr Mike PackerCawthron Institute
Donato RomanazziCawthron Institute
Dr Wayne YoungAgResearch
Dr Karl FraserAgResearch
Dr Evelyn MaesAgResearch
Dr Odette ShawPlant and Food Research
Dr Roger HurstPlant and Food Research
Dr Angela JonesVictoria University of Wellington
Dr Aurelie GestinMalaghan Institute
Dr Yanyan Li
Dr Janine CooneyPlant and Food Research
Irene BraithwaiteMedical Research Institute of New Zealand
Richard BeasleyMedical Research Institute of New Zealand
Mark WeatherallMedical Research Institute of New Zealand
Dr Audrey Tay
Dr Elizabeth Forbes-Blom
Dr Anna MooneyVictoria University of Wellington
Dr Gregory SawyerPlant and Food Research
Dr Karmella Naidoo

Public Summary

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

Collaborating Organisations: Plant & Food Research, Medical Research Institute of New Zealand, AgResearch

In the past five years, the HVN 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 severe influenza disease and increased risks of metabolic and cardiovascular disease, are of significant importance to Chinese consumers. The Immune Health programme successfully established the role of New Zealand food and beverage (F&B) constituents in diminishing influenza-driven lung disease, either by direct antiviral activity of food-derived bioactives or by enhancing the immunological responsiveness to the influenza-vaccine. The active participation of gut microbes in the response to influenza vaccination has been confirmed in the context of a clinical study, where >120 healthy vaccinees were followed and assessed over the course of 6 months after administration of the seasonal influenza vaccine. The specific mechanism underlying this important microbe-vaccine interaction, which could be relevant for other vaccines, including in early life, is currently being investigated. The programme further established the beneficial effect of different foods and food-derived bioactives to combat air pollution-driven inflammation, which highlights the opportunity of the New Zealand F&B industry to engage in this emerging and substantial market.

An important task of the Immune Health programme is to establish an immunological analysis platform which can be used by the other HVN health themes. Leveraging the comprehensive banking of samples from the completed human vaccine study, we successfully profiled, at a very high degree of specificity, the immune status of each vaccine and are now creating an analysis pipeline to understand the complex relationship between food, the microbiome and the human immune system. This depth of analysis has never been achieved before and attests to the science excellence we 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 F&B industry.

At the end of tranche 1, the HVN Immune Health programme is moving seamlessly into the specific tranche 2 preparations, which include setting up a human trial platform in China, very close interaction with New Zealand F&B industry partners and finalizing the immunological tools which will be used to support the scientific and industry goals of HVN in the next five years. There are three key objectives for the Immune Health PRP over the next five years:

  1. To demonstrate the ability of New Zealand foods and/or beverages to decrease systemic inflammation in pollution-exposed Chinese consumers, including metabolic parameters, through clinical studies entitled the China Air Pollution and Prediabetes (CAPP) Studies
  2. To establish an ‘immune-phenotyping’ strategy which will provide immunological information for each clinically tested food (across the Health PRPs) and generate a mechanistic framework for the ‘Chinese Urban Phenotype’ concept, in terms of both pathogenesis and food-mediated mitigation
  3. To establish an immune-metabolism platform and framework which will contribute to the integrative understanding of Diet-Host-Microbiome interactions and guide future clinical studies.



Poyntz, H., Jones, A., Jauregui, R., Young, W., Gestin, A., Mooney, A., Lamiable, O., Altermann, E., Schmidt, A., Gasser, O., Weyrich, L., Jolly, C., Linterman, M., LeGros, G., Hawkins, E. & Forbes-Blom, E. (2019). Genetic regulation of antibody responsiveness to immunization in substrains of BALB/c mice. Immunology & Cell Biology.


Schortt, N., Poyntz, H., Young, W., Jones, A., Gestin, A., Mooney, A., Thayabaran, D., Sparks, J., Ostapowicz, T., Tay, A., Poppitt, S., Elliott, S., Wakefield, G., Parry-Strong, A., Ralston, J., Gasser, O., Beasley, R., Weatherall, M., Braithwaite, I. & Forbes-Blom, E. (2018). A feasibility study: association between gut microbiota enterotype and antibody response to seasonal trivalent influenza vaccine in adults.  Clin Transl Immunology.

Immune Health highlights