24 November 2016
In our first 50 years, we built a strong foundation in basic biological research. Those decades of investment and support for clarifying the operations of the human immune system are now paying off – we have an understanding of the immune system that is making it possible to use the body’s own systems to heal itself.
Our work has focused on cancer, asthma and allergy research so far, but in the next decade or two – perhaps sooner – I believe we will see an immune-based approach applied to treating conditions such as multiple sclerosis, autism and diabetes. Even more challenging, and very timely given the world’s ageing populations, could be its extension to treating dementia and other neurological problems. Being able to lead a full and healthy life for as long as possible will have massive implications not just for the individuals and their families but for society more broadly.
Through our long-term asthma research, we have gained deep insights into the way parasites interact with and modulate our immune system. It is serendipitous that we are now able to contribute our expertise directly to efforts to reduce the global burden of human hookworm, through our collaboration with the Sabin Vaccine Institute.
Climate change is also forcing us to rethink our risk from parasitic diseases here in New Zealand. In a warming world, diseases that are currently confined to warmer countries may become a serious threat. Chagas disease, for example, has high human and economic costs and a growing prevalence in this country.
Our vaccine technology attracted further government investment this year. We are determined that this discovery will not be sold overseas too quickly, so the potentially large rewards will be retained and contribute to our country’s economic growth.
We are seeing the way forward now. We have proof that the immune system can be used and manipulated naturally to change disease outcomes. The opportunity to create a healthier world has never been closer.