Infant Health Priority Research Programme
Professor Clare Wall
Professor Clare Wall heads the Nutrition Department at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the University of Auckland and is the Principal Investigator of the Infant Health priority research programme. Her research interest is in the inter-relationships between the determinants of nutritional status and health outcomes of the paediatric population.
Principal Investigator: Associate Professor Clare Wall, University of Auckland
Weaning is a period of marked physiological change. The introduction of solid foods and the changes in milk consumption are accompanied by significant gastrointestinal tract (GI), immune and developmental adaptations. It is especially in this period of weaning that there are opportunities for the development of complementary food products that aid and support the maintenance of optimal health. Recent discoveries have highlighted how the infant immune system co-evolves with GI microbiota (microbes including bacteria) in a mutualistic relationship, a crucial event that affects the host’s immune system throughout life. Research has also demonstrated that aberrant GI microbiota during infancy is associated with disease conditions later in life. Comparative studies of the genetic material in the GI tact have underscored the dominant role played by diet in shaping the composition and function of GI microbiota.
Tranche 1: 2014 – 2019
Collaborating Organisations: Malaghan Institute, AgResearch, Riddet Institute, Computational Systems Biology Institute (COSBI), University of Trento, Italy
To research the relationship between nutrition, microbiota and infant immune health a multidisciplinary team was established. Professor Martin Kussmann was the principal investigator working with Dr Olivier Gasser (Malaghan), Professor Warren McNabb (Riddet), and Associate Professor Nicole Roy (AgResearch) and COSBI). Associate Professor Clare Wall from the University of Auckland undertook the clinical trial on behalf of the infant health team. The expertise of the team enabled a systems level approach to be applied to the research whereby an interrogative picture could be demonstrated of the effect of food on metabolism, immunity and function in the whole person, and their organs and tissues. The High-Value Nutrition Infant Health priority research programme investigated if it is possible to interrogate age appropriate New Zealand whole foods and food components to identify candidates, which feed beneficial GI bacteria. The programme also investigated if it is possible to produce this candidate food into a commercial product which can be fed to infants.
Kūmara was identified as a candidate food, which could support the development of beneficial microbiota. A pilot study was conducted (Nourish to Flourish) which recruited 40 infants prior to the commencement of the introduction of solid foods. Thirty of these infants consumed the kūmara complementary feeding product over a 6-month period and 10 infants received a probiotic control. Infant feeding behaviour, infant health status and biological samples were collected at three time points (baseline, then 3 months and 6 months after commencing solid food). The biological samples included faecal, urine, saliva and blood samples. The samples were used to assess the extent to which the complementary feeding had modulated the infant GI microbiota. Retention of infants in the study was excellent with only five infants not completing the study. The kūmara was well tolerated and no adverse events relating to the intervention were reported.
The pilot study demonstrated that it is feasible to recruit infants, feed a known prebiotic food to infants over a 6-month period, and collect biological samples and health parameters, which allow the measurement of 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. Outcomes from this pilot study will be available later in 2019. The study presents opportunities for food and beverage companies to consider the development of other suitable complementary feeding products with known prebiotic properties. These food products can be tested in the planned Randomised Controlled Clinical Trials in New Zealand and Asia in the next phase of the HVN programme through 2019-2024.
Tranche 2: 2019 – 2024
Collaborating Organisations: Malaghan Institute, AgResearch, Riddet Institute, Plant and Food Research
The key objectives for the Infant Health priority research programme in Tranche 2 are to:
- Identify NZ whole foods and food components that support the growth of beneficial microbiota in infants
- Identify candidate combinations of these whole foods and food components to produce experimental complementary feeding diets and commercially feasible prototypes for testing in clinical studies in New Zealand and China
- Develop a mechanistic understanding of how complementary feeding diets modulate the microbiome and improve infant immune health outcomes through a combination of in-vitro analyses, immunological assays and ‘omics (metabolomics, metagonomics) analyses.
Infant Health highlights
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