Metabolic Health

Priority Research Programme

Research Team

Professor Sally Poppitt

Sally is the founding director of the Human Nutrition Unit at the University of Auckland and the Fonterra Chair in Human Nutrition and the principal investigator of the Metabolic Health programme. Sally’s research has long been focused on the prevention and treatment of conditions arising from poor nutrition including overweight and obesity, metabolic dysregulation and diabetic and cardiovascular risk. She has extensive experience in conducting nutrition intervention trials in developed and developing countries.


NameOrganisationORCID ID
Prof Sally PoppittUniversity of Auckland
Dr Karl FraserAgResearch Limited
A/ Prof Rinki MurphyUniversity of Auckland
A/ Prof Jeremy KrebsUniversity of Otago
A/ Prof Mike TaylorUniversity of Auckland
Dr John MonroPlant and Food Research
Dr Olivier GasserMalaghan Institute
Dr Ivana SequeiraUniversity of Auckland
Dr Louise Weiwei LuUniversity of Auckland
Dr Jennifer Miles-ChanUniversity of Auckland
Dr Wayne YoungAgResearch Limited
Wilson YipUniversity of Auckland
Clarence VivarUniversity of Auckland
Jazmyne XuUniversity of Auckland
Dr Justin O'SullivanUniversity of Auckland
Dr Marta SilvestreUniversity of Auckland
Tayaza FadasonUniversity of Auckland
Heiki SchwendelAgResearch Limited
Emily WuAgResearch Limited
Dr John IngramPlant and Food Research
A/Prof Greg JonesUniversity of Otago

Public Summary

Principal Investigator: Professor Sally Poppitt, University of Auckland

Collaborating Organisations: University of Otago, AgResearch, Plant & Food Research

The High Value Nutrition Metabolic Health priority research program PANaMAH (Peak Nutrition for Metabolic Health) has been investigating the nutritional problem of weight gain and the development of type 2 diabetes in Asian communities; working with NZ F&B companies such as the Māori business cluster NUKU ki te Puku™. A growing problem in New Zealand and many other rapidly ‘westernising’ countries, it is of particular concern to Asia. In China alone almost 1 of 3 individuals are struggling with their weight, and across Asia a staggering 300 million people have already been diagnosed with diabetes, many in the new urban mega cities. Since type 2 diabetes is a nutritional disease, caused primarily through poor lifestyle habits, it can be prevented successfully through better nutrition. Previously common in the ‘over-weight and over-forties’, for many Asian consumers risk increases even whilst young and outwardly quite slim. The cause may lie in deposition of body fat within ‘unsafe’ stores, such as the important organs of pancreas and liver, which has been termed the TOFI profile where individuals are ‘Thin on the Outside yet Fat on the Inside’.

The PANaMAH TOFI_Asia study has recruited a large cohort of Asian Chinese and Caucasian adults to investigate possible causes of this increased susceptibility. The clinical studies team at the University of Auckland Human Nutrition Unit, comprising Prof Sally Poppitt, Dr Ivana Sequiera, Dr Louise Weiwei Lu, and PhD student Wilson Yip, in collaboration with diabetes clinicians Dr Rinki Murphy and Professor Garth Cooper, have enrolled lean and overweight, young and middle aged, healthy and pre-diabetic Chinese and Caucasian adults, and completed a series of investigations of the TOFI profile and metabolic risk. HVN AgResearch scientist Dr Karl Fraser and PhD student Emily Zhanxuan Wu, in collaboration with University of Manchester UK, have screened blood samples for metabolites/biomarkers of increased risk. Also, a sub-group of women have undergone MR (magnetic resonance) imaging to measure pancreas and liver fat, in collaboration with researchers at University of Newcastle, UK. Phenotyping using blood biomarkers and body/organ fat storage was completed this year, and has shown the biomarker ‘fingerprint’ to differ significantly between Chinese and Caucasians. Whether this is due to different physiology, different pathology, or a different background diet is the focus of a new study commencing in 2020 during Phase 2 of HVN. A series of novel blood biomarkers of high pancreatic fat have also been identified, and again importantly shown to be quite different between Asian Chinese and Caucasian individuals.

Identifying early predictive markers of type 2 diabetes is the first step in developing new opportunities for food and beverage (F&B) companies. A study investigating glucose-lowering effects of the plant-derived polyphenol rutin has recently been completed by the PANaMAH team, with results expected mid-2019. Throughout 2018/19 several other interventions have investigated the response of glucose-related and HVN-identified novel metabolomic biomarkers to F&B intervention; including the flagship Tū Ora project with the NUKU™ Māori business cluster as part of the HVN Vision Matāuranga platform, investigating a plant-based higher protein product scheduled for commercialisation in Asia by NUKU ki te Puku™ in 2019-20; and a whey protein dairy beverage intervention in collaboration with Fonterra Co-operative Ltd. Outcomes are expected later in 2019. F&B interventions will continue as a central focus of the next phase of the HVN program through 2019-2024; extending PANaMAH studies conducted in Asian Chinese individuals resident in New Zealand through international collaborations with research teams in China. 



Davies, N.K., O’Sullivan, J.M., Plank, L.D. & Murphy, R. (2019). Altered gut microbiome after bariatric surgery and its association with metabolic benefits: A systematic review. Surg Obes Relat Dis. 15(4): 656-665.

Wu, Z., Kruger, M., Cooper, J.S., Poppitt, S.D. & Fraser, K. (2019). Tissue-specific sample dilution: an important parameter to optimise prior to untargeted LC-MS metabolomics. Metabolites. 9(7):124.


DeSouza S.V., Singh, R.G., Yoon, H.D., Murphy, R., Plank, L.D. & Petrov, M.S. (2018). Pancreas volume in health and disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Expert Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 12(8):757-766.

Fadason, T., Schierding, W., Lumley, T. & O’Sullivan, J.M. (2018). Chromatin interactions and expression quantitative trait loci reveal genetic drivers of multimorbidities. Nature Communications. 9(1):5198.


Aitken, J.F., Loomes, K.M., Riba-Garcia, I., Unwin, R.D., Prijic, G., Phillips, A.S., Phillips, A.R.J., Wu, D., Poppitt, S.D., Ding, K., Barran, P.E., Dowsey, A.W. & Cooper G.J.S. (2017). Quantitative data describing the impact of the flavonol rutin on in-vivo blood-glucose and fluid-intake profiles, and survival of human-amylin transgenic mice. Data in Brief. 10: 298-303.

Aitken, J.F., Loomes, K.M., Riba-Garcia, I., Unwin, R.D., Prijic, G., Phillips, A.S., Phillips, A.R.J., Wu, D., Poppitt, S.D., Ding, K., Barran, P.E., Dowsey, A.W. & Cooper, G.J.S. (2017). Rutin suppresses human-amylin/hIAPP misfolding and oligomer formation in-vitro, and ameliorates diabetes and its impacts in human-amylin/hIAPP transgenic mice. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications. 482(4): 625-631.

Fadason, T., Ekblad, C., Ingram, J.R., Schierding, W. & O’Sullivan, J.M. (2017). Physical Interactions and Expression Quantitative Traits Loci Identify Regulatory Connections for Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes Associated SNPs. Frontiers in Genetics. 8:150.

Murphy, R., Tsai, P., Jüllig, M., Liu, A., Plank, L. & Booth M. (2017). Differential Changes in Gut Microbiota After Gastric Bypass and Sleeve Gastrectomy Bariatric Surgery Vary According to Diabetes Remission. Obesity Surgery. 27(4):917-925.

Poppitt, S.D. (2017). Obesity and weight control: is there light at the end of the tunnel? Current Nutrition Reports. 6(2): 51-62.

Poppitt, S.D. (2017). Hyperglycaemia, pre-diabetes and diabesity: can we choose who to ‘fast-track’ into diabetes prevention? Current Research in Diabetes & Obesity Journal. 2(3).

Sequeira, I.R. & Poppitt, S.D. (2017). HbA1c as a marker of prediabetes: a reliable screening tool or not? Insights in Nutrition and Metabolism. 1(1).

Sequeira, I.R. & Poppitt, S.D. (2017). Unfolding novel mechanisms of polyphenol flavonoids for better glycaemic control: targeting pancreatic islet amyloid polypeptide (IAPP). Nutrients. 9(7): 788.

Singh, R.G., Yoon, H.D., Poppitt, S.D., Plank, L.D. & Petrov, M.S. (2017). Ectopic fat accumulation in the pancreas and its biomarkers: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetes and Metabolism Research and Reviews. 33(8).

Yip, W., Sequeira, I.R., Plank, L.D. & Poppitt, S.D. (2017). Prevalence of pre-diabetes across ethnicities: a review of impaired fasting glucose (IFG) and impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) for classification of dysglycaemia. Nutrients. 9(11): 1273.

Partnerships in Metabolic Health research

High-Value Nutrition has invested in partnerships with key businesses and a university to support the potential of two iconic New Zealand food products, research to help people remain independent as they age, and a novel approach to support Māori businesses to innovate by applying quality research.

Nuku ki te Puku, a cluster of Māori-owned food and beverage businesses and the Challenge have invested $1m to prototype how Māori businesses and top researchers share science and cultural expertise to develop new food for health products for export.

Metabolic Health highlights