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The George Washington University Receives Funding for Healthy Growth Research

Photo credit: Jessica Burt
December 04, 2012

Latarsha Gatlin
202-994-5631; [email protected]
Michelle Sherrard
202-994-1423; [email protected]

WASHINGTON– George Washington University will receive over $2 million in grant funding through the Achieving Healthy Growth program within the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative. This initiative was launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to overcome persistent bottlenecks preventing the creation of new and better health solutions for the developing world.

Robin Bernstein, assistant professor of anthropology in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, has been selected to pursue a research project studying the factors affecting positive and negative growth patterns in rural African children under age 2. This work will contribute to a broader understanding of why and how growth failure occurs in children in the developing world. 

“We believe that our detailed investigation of how healthy growth proceeds, and how challenges to healthy growth occur, will provide a comprehensive foundation for targeted prevention and intervention strategies,” said Dr. Bernstein. “To this point, such efforts have been affected by an incomplete understanding of how, at a mechanistic level, nutritional and environmental influences on key hormone pathways regulate healthy and compromised growth. Gathering the detailed data to address these issues is being made possible through the generous support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who encourage novel approaches to such longstanding challenges in human health research.“

The goal of the Healthy Growth grant program is to discover the causes of faltering growth during the first 1,000 days of life and to identify effective and affordable interventions to promote healthy growth.     

Dr. Bernstein’s project is one of seven grants announced today. 

“Safeguarding the health of young children is one of the world’s most urgent priorities and a core focus of our work,” said Chris Wilson, director of Discovery & Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We hope the suite of grants announced today will give us a deeper understanding of the reasons underlying stunted growth in children in the developing world and how this can be predicted to guide new approaches to improve the health and development of these children.”

Dr. Bernstein’s project goal is to conduct the most detailed examination ever undertaken exploring growth failure and its hormonal and epigenetic correlates during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. As part of her study, she will work with a cohort of approximately 200 individuals whose growth will be monitored starting in utero, and who will have their growth patterns, health, and physiology closely followed after birth.

The research will seek to identify critical periods during the first 1,000 days when growth faltering can be identified and potentially modified through new interventions. Along with hormonal and genetic influences on growth, the project will also investigate the protective role of body fat, and how malnutrition, stress and infection influence a baby’s ability to thrive. 

The study is a collaboration between George Washington; the MRC International Nutrition Group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; the MRC Keneba, which is a rural field station in the Kiang West region of The Gambia, Africa; and Cambridge University.

“A project of this scope would not be possible without strong collaborative relationships, and I am privileged to be working with some of the very best researchers out there,” Dr. Bernstein said. “Our team includes world-class nutritionists, geneticists, pediatricians, endocrinologists and epidemiologists, and the outcome of this work will reflect their willingness to work across traditional disciplinary boundaries – as well as the immense benefit that comes from doing so.”  

About the Grand Challenges
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recognizes that solving our greatest global health and development issues is a long-term effort. Through Grand Challenges, the foundation along with other Grand Challenge partners such as USAID , Grand Challenges Canada, and Brazil’s Ministry of Health, are committed to seeking out and rewarding not only established researchers in science and technology, but also young investigators, entrepreneurs and innovators to help expand the pipeline of ideas to fight diseases that claim millions of lives each year.

About the George Washington University
In the heart of the nation's capital with additional programs in Virginia, the George Washington University was created by an Act of Congress in 1821. Today, GW is the largest institution of higher education in the District of Columbia. The university offers comprehensive programs of undergraduate and graduate liberal arts study, as well as degree programs in medicine, public health, law, engineering, education, business and international affairs. Each year, GW enrolls a diverse population of undergraduate, graduate and professional students from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 130 countries.