Food & Bio-Based Products

$6.5m in new funding for AgResearch-led digestive health study

$6.5m in new funding for AgResearch-led digestive health study

** This press release was issued by High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge **

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. 

Digestive Health Programme
Principal Investigator - Professor Nicole Roy, AgResearch
Collaborating Organisations: Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, Plant & Food Research, the University of Auckland, University of Otago, Massey University, 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.

In New Zealand’s large and growing food export markets in Asia digestive health is a common and rising topic of concern. Healthy digestion is critical to physical health, and mental health and wellbeing. Approximately 30 per cent of the population has at least one of the Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (FGDs), such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), where “everything looks normal” and there is no detectable disease, but where there are actually abnormal digestive processes, such as hypersensitivity.

In phase 1, the Digestive Health research programme 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. This will enable the New Zealand food and beverage (F&B) industry to predict the gastrointestinal health benefits of foods and ingredients and generate validated scientific evidence of these health benefits.

“The Digestive Health programme works closely with the New Zealand food and beverage industry, including Māori agribusinesses, to ensure that their research is relevant for industry. This includes work with New Zealand industry partners to validate their approach and test food concepts. This new funding will enable the research team to continue to assist Māori and non-Māori food and beverage entities, in developing and testing products for improved gastrointestinal health outcomes,” says Ms Todd.

Nicole Roy, Principal Scientist and Science Team Leader of the High-Value Nutrition Digestive Health Programme based at AgResearch says that “phase 2 of the programme will expand on the research from phase 1, and will include identifying products that have the potential to benefit digestive health and contribute to the export of high-value foods, and therefore increase export revenue.”

“This research is important for consumers, in particular the so-called “Worried Well” emerging middle and upper classes in Asia. To excel at their careers and contend with advancing age, they will purchase (F&B) products that will help them to feel physically comfortable, fit and mentally sharp,” she says.

There are already examples of New Zealand F&B products targeting digestive health that are establishing health messaging based on New Zealand reputable research. Two examples are products by Zespri International (green kiwifruit) and the a2 Milk Company (bovine milk).

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