Funded to the tune of $8.3 million by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the team will be led by Jeffrey I. Gordon, MD, at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
In a statement made available to The Nation, Maleta said he is excited to be part of this collaboration to understand and address a significant and growing problem in Malawi which may not have received as much attention as it ought to.
â€œSevere malnutrition has long been thought to stem simply from a lack of adequate food. But now scientists understand the condition is far more complex and may involve a breakdown in the way gut microbial communities process various components of the diet,â€ he said.
On the other hand, Gordon said a complex relationship exists between diet, gut microbial communities and the immune system in severely malnourished children.
The statement adds that as part of the Breast Milk, Gut Microbiome and Immunity Project, the scientists will evaluate the relationship among first foods, the developing community of microbes in the intestine and the developing immune system.
The new research builds on ongoing clinical studies in Africa, South Asia and South America of malnourished and healthy infants and children and their mothers, which also are funded by the Gates Foundation.
Then using the mice, the scientists can carefully evaluate how various nutritional interventions influence the workings of the gut microbiomes obtained from these children. They will be able to determine which microbes respond, how they respond and how they affect the overall function of the gut microbiomes. The researchers also will evaluate certain aspects of childhood development.
Other scientists involved in the project include: Per Ashorn, MD, PhD, at the University of Tampere School of Medicine in Finland; Kathryn Dewey, PhD, University of California, Davis; Michael Gottlieb, PhD, Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (NIH); Rob Knight, PhD, University of Colorado, Boulder; Kenneth Maleta, PhD, University of Malawi College of Medicine; David Mills, University of California, Davis; Jeremy Nicholson, PhD, Imperial College, London; and Linda Saif, The Ohio State University.