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$3.5 million to investigate products to boost immune defence

High-Value Nutrition: $3.5 million to investigate products to boost immune defence against respiratory illness

The first of the National Science Challenges: High-Value Nutrition today announced an investment of $10.9 million, over three and half years, for research to accelerate the translation of New Zealand-led science into scientifically validated food products for the Asian markets.

Dr Elizabeth Forbes-Blom, Head of Gut Immunology at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, is the Principal Investigator for one of the High-Value Nutrition’s priority research programmes that will investigate ways nutrition can improve immune defence against respiratory illness. This work has been allocated $3.5 million.

“Frequent colds, flu and respiratory tract infections are some of the top health issues in Asian countries. In large, densely populated cities, with low air quality and high pollution, finding foods to boost immune defence is vital. The gut is the most populace immune cell environment in the body, making it an ideal target for food to beneficially modulate immune function. Its surface area and vast microbial richness are just starting to be fully investigated with a corresponding rise in the potential to create targeted foods and beverages.” says Dr Forbes-Blom.

High-Value Nutrition has drawn together researchers from different institutions and across disciplines to deliver results through collaboration. This research team includes scientists from the Malaghan Institute as well as colleagues from Plant & Food Research, AgResearch and the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand. New Zealand is already a highly regarded food producer in Asia, and foods and beverages with scientifically validated immune defence benefits will generate new opportunities for New Zealand companies.

Dr Forbes continues, “This is an amazing opportunity with substantial potential, but we need to define the causal relationships for food and beverage products to build immune defence and measure these food-health relationships.”

Q & A

Why are we hearing more about gut health being central to beneficial immune responses?

The old adage “you are what you eat” has taken on a new meaning as immunologists have turned their attention to the trillions of non-human cells that inhabit out gut, our skin and our lungs. The adult gut contains 70% of the body’s immune cells. Research is finding tantalising links between microbiota signatures and health and disease, but the so-called food-gut-immune axis is dynamic and complex. Research can be said to be in its relative infancy.

How does gut health relate to respiratory or lung health?

Both the gut and respiratory system are mucosal tissues, and there is substantial evidence to show immune cells in mucosal tissues are connected throughout the body. When food and beverage products are consumed they are delivered to the gut, the most powerful immunological organ in the body. The mucosal tissue connection results in beneficial modulation of immune responses in the lung as well.

There are an increasing number of food supplements that make health claims; how will food and beverages that the High-Value Nutrition programme develops differ? They will be scientifically validated. This could be seen to be like a ‘Heart Tick’; but in this case it is a ‘Science Tick’. Consumers who seek to build their immune defence will be able to trust there is research to back up any claims. But we are just beginning this journey.


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