Washington University in St. Louis has announced an $8.3 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to identify new ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent malnutrition in infants and children.
Through the Breast Milk, Gut Microbiome and Immunity Project, an international team of scientists led by Jeffrey I. Gordon, the Dr. Robert J. Glaser Distinguished University Professor and director of the university's Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology, will evaluate the relationship among first foods, the developing community of microbes in the intestine, and the developing immune system.
Building on ongoing clinical studies of malnourished and healthy infants and children and their mothers in Africa, South Asia, and South America, the project will evaluate the function of gut microbial communities in malnourished and healthy infants and children living in countries where malnutrition is prevalent. Researchers also will work to determine the nutritional content and immune activity present in breast milk samples obtained from the children's mothers during periods of exclusive and supplemental breastfeeding and identify next-generation probiotics and nutrient supplements or combinations of the two (synbiotics) with the potential to promote healthy growth in infants and children.
"A complex relationship exists between diet, gut microbial communities, and the immune system in severely malnourished children," said Gordon. "We now have a way to tease apart these influences. This project seeks to discover novel dietary and microbial therapeutics that can be targeted to infants and children living in countries with rampant malnutrition."