Study of Childhood Malnutrition and Intestinal Infections Announced


The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH), together with the Fogarty International Center (FIC), announce the launch of a five-year study to investigate the linkages between malnutrition and intestinal infections and their effects on children in the developing world, funded by a grant of nearly $30 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to the FNIH. An estimated 20 million children under the age of 5 are severely malnourished, leaving them more vulnerable to illness and early death, according to the World Health Organization.

Poor nutrition in early childhood may lead to cognitive defects and poor physical development; increase susceptibility to and severity of infections; and diminish the effectiveness of childhood vaccines. Meanwhile, infections causing diarrhea can damage the intestines, impair nutrient absorption and impact the immune system. Despite recent advances in treatment of diarrheal disease that have dramatically decreased deaths, the vicious cycle of diarrheal diseases and malnutrition negatively impacts the long-term health and development of tens of millions of children living in resource-poor areas of the world.

"Understanding the complex relationships between malnutrition and intestinal infections is critical to improve children’s health," said Tachi Yamada, president of Global Health for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "We hope this research network will make discoveries that will in turn help us save the lives of those most at risk."

FNIH and FIC are coordinating the research effort, which will be conducted in collaboration with other partners, including universities in the United States and institutions in the developing world. These partnerships will establish a network of urban and rural sites in Asia, Africa and South America. Sites were chosen on the basis of their diversity of exposure to intestinal pathogens, disease prevalence, investigator experience and local scientific capacity. In addition, the genetic heterogeneity of the human populations involved in the network will enable collaborating investigators to study the host factors responsible for differential susceptibility to infectious pathogens and malnutrition. These associated genomic studies will be supported by grants from the Gates Foundation to the University of Virginia and to Washington University, St. Louis.

"With the establishment of this remarkable partnership, we hope to shed light on critical questions such as which organisms or infections disrupt growth and development, as well as identify the time in early life when those factors have the greatest impact on morbidity and mortality," said Charles A. Sanders, MD, FNIH chairman.

The network will be coordinated by Co-Principal Investigators Michael Gottlieb, PhD, of FNIH, and Mark Miller, MD, of Fogarty.

"The interactions between diarrheal diseases and malnutrition produce a vicious cycle that has devastating developmental consequences for the world’s poorest children," said Fogarty Director Roger I. Glass, MD, PhD. "We have much to learn about this relationship and expect that the robust and expanding network that we are establishing will provide us with a wealth of useful information."

The network’s main objectives are to create a standardized and harmonized set of epidemiological tools to accurately study the links between intestinal infections and gut physiology as risk factors for malnutrition across a number of diverse sites in the developing world. By applying mapping and modeling to the data obtained from these studies and from others, the network also will be able to apply the knowledge gained to quantify the global burden of disease and to evaluate effective interventions in an effort to promote the health and well-being of children around the world.

For more information about the program, visit




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