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$5.5 million from Gates Foundation funds major study of childhood malnutrition
Date:3/31/2009

March 31, 2009 -- Scientists who first established a link between obesity and the trillions of friendly microbes that live in the intestine now are investigating whether the organisms can contribute to the converse: severe malnutrition.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, led by microbiologist Jeffrey Gordon, M.D., will study whether severely malnourished infants living in Malawi and Bangladesh have a different mix of intestinal microbes than healthy infants in the same areas, and whether those microbes might account for their illness. This three-year, $5.5 million project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

"This work is designed to understand the complex interplay among a child's diet and his or her gut microbial community, immune system and human genome in the development of the most severe forms of malnutrition, kwashiorkor and marasmus," says Gordon, who directs Washington University's Center for Genome Sciences. "Investigating how gut microbes contribute to malnutrition could provide a framework for developing more effective ways to treat and prevent these devastating diseases."

The research will focus on twins ages 6 months to 2 years, in which one or both twins is severely malnourished, and as a comparison, healthy twins. Identical and fraternal twins are being studied because they have identical or similar genetic backgrounds, and they share the same early environment after birth.

Malnutrition is a major health issue in both Malawi, in sub-Sahara Africa, and in Bangladesh, in East Asia, where it is inextricably linked to extreme poverty. The two countries also have very distinct cultures and diets - factors that likely influence the collection of microbes that colonize the human intestine.

Severe malnutrition has long been thought to stem simply from a lack of adequate food. Scientists now understand that the condition is far more complex. Indeed, it is not unc
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Contact: Caroline Arbanas
arbanasc@wustl.edu
314-286-0109
Washington University School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert

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