Research Group - Gut Immunology

Research Report 2016 - Gut Immunology

13 January 2017, Gut Health, Immune system, Microbiota, Vaccines

Our gut microbiota – the trillions of microbes that colonise our gastrointestinal tract – is being increasingly recognised for its important role in our health and well-being. Dr Elizabeth Forbes-Blom, who leads the Gut Immunology team, is studying the connections between gut microbiota and the immune system.

One area of research is examining the effects of different gut bacteria on the immune system by studying response to a vaccine, in this case the seasonal influenza vaccine.

“Flu is one of the top health issues worldwide, with influenza epidemics occurring virtually every year. When you are vaccinated, your body makes antibodies to protect itself against flu infection, should it be encountered in the future, but some people respond better (and make more antibodies) than others,” she says.

“From previous work with animal models we know that altering gut microbiota can influence protective antibodies following flu vaccination. As part of the High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge, we next wanted to find out if one type of microbiota was associated with a reduced response to the flu vaccine in humans, or conversely if a particular gut microbiota signature was associated with a highly protective antibody response.”

To date, 123 people who received the 2016 vaccine have provided blood and faecal samples for the study. These participants are now returning for a follow-up visit six months after their vaccination to assess how well the flu antibodies have been maintained over time. The participants also kept food diaries during the study.

“We know that what we eat is essential for health, but we are now seeking to understand the potentially beneficial effects of foods and beverages made by New Zealand companies, which improve the interactions of the gut microbiota with the immune system to support protective immunity against flu infection. The current investigations will address our knowledge gaps to enable the development of scientifically validated, value-added immune health products by food and beverage manufacturers, particularly for export.”

The High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge brings Malaghan Institute researchers together with collaborators at the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand, the University of Otago Wellington, the University of Auckland, FoodSavvy, Plant & Food Research and AgResearch. 

Research Team

Dr Elizabeth Forbes-Blom, Dr Lieke van den Elsen, Angela Jones, Dr Hazel Poyntz, Aurélie Gestin, Karmella Naidoo, Anna Mooney.