MRC Festival- Young Scientists from our Nutrition Theme

16 June 2016The Young Scientist from MRCG’s Nutrition theme will take you on a journey where you will be able to explore global efforts to combat under‐nutrition, gain novel insights into the basic mechanisms linking malnutrition to metabolic and infectious diseases.

James Cross1

James Cross PhD Student (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine/ MRC Unit The Gambia) Nutrition Theme

James Cross will be presenting “Iron and Infection: Neonatal Iron Transition”

James’ research is on Iron is an essential micronutrient for both microb
ial pathogens and their mammalian hosts. Changes in iron availability and distribution have significant effects on pathogen virulence and on the immune response to infection. In an effort to study the neonatal iron transition and its role in neonatal susceptibility to infection, we will conduct an observational study in full-term vaginally-delivered neonates born at the Brikama Major Health Centre, The Gambia. We will fully characterise and quantify nutritional immunity during the early neonatal period and we will assess how the neonatal iron transition impacts bacterial growth.

James stated, “I am confident the MRC Festival 2016 will provide a fantastic platform for me to present my research to local collaborators. This will allow me to engage with the community to form strong links and improved understanding of mine and the MRCG’s aims. I hope this special day can increase trust and awareness of my research, and how it can benefit The Gambia as a whole.”


Trainee Bioinformatician, Nutrition Theme

Modupeh Betts will be presenting on “Epigenetic Mechanisms Linking Pre-Conceptional Maternal Nutrition and Health in Children (EMPHASIS)”

My research is focused on investigating a mother’s nutritional status around the time of conception and its effect on the epigenome and health of their children. Scientific evid
ence from mice and some human studies indicates that peri-conceptional maternal diet influences the offspring epigenome and susceptibility to disease. However, this is not tested in a randomised controlled setting. In this study, DNA methylation will be analysed in children born to mothers from two randomised controlled trials in India and The Gambia in which mothers were supplemented with micronutrients before conception. Changes in epigenetic signatures between the intervention and control groups will be correlated with health-related outcomes in children, including size at birth, post-natal growth, body composition, cardiometabolic risk markers, and cognitive ability.

According to Modupeh, “Confirming effects of maternal pre-conception diet on offspring health in humans has far-reaching significance on child and maternal health policy globally. Ultimately, this can lead to the design of next-generation nutritional interventions for mother’s preparing for pregnancy to avert disruptive effects on the child’s epigenome and health”


Christine Bartram, PhD student (Health Sciences at the University of Warwick), Nutrition Theme

Christine Bartram will be presenting her research on “Mothers’ and fathers’ mental health, newborn social behaviour, and parent-infant interaction in West Kiang, The Gambia”

Christine’s research involves data collection at Keneba for the psycho-social measures in the BRain Imaging in Global HealTh (BRIGHT). The study follows approximately 45 families from the third trimester to five months after birth, and looks at associations amongst parents’ mental health, newborn behaviour, parent-child interaction, infant growth, and family socioeconomic status. Christine will present her piloting results while interviewing parents about their daily experiences; demonstrated that the NBAS is culturally acceptable with only minor adjustments; and worked with a team to translate the mental health questionnaires that will be implemented as adjuncts to the main BRIGHT study.

Christine said “I want to emphasise that there is significant added value to medical research when studies seek to contextualise their participant groups by collecting quantitative and qualitative data on psychological, social, and environmental influences on health and development. In communicating this, I want to encourage research groups to routinely include such contextual data in study designs, to facilitate a more comprehensive understanding of human nutrition, growth, illness, and health-related behaviour. One contextual influence on children’s health on which I would particularly like to encourage further research is fathers.”



PhD Student, Nutrition Theme

Amat Bah will be presenting his research on “Testing the efficacy and safety of a hepcidin-based screen-and-treat approach to iron administration in pregnancy”

Hepcidin and anaemia in pregnancy (HAPn) is a double-blind 3 arm randomised controlled trial comparing standard dose of iron supplementation for pregnant women with two screen-and-treat approaches using hepcidin as a biomarker for ready and safe to receive iron. It is a trial conceived as ID and anaemia is a global public health problem with major consequences for human health and development. Although iron supplementation does work, excess iron also has adverse consequences (infections, hospitalisation, mortality). Therefore, we should give iron only to those who need it. Screening for ID and anaemia is problematic but hepcidin a recently discovered peptide hormone is shown to be able to recognise the need for iron and risks pose by infection.

Amat stated, “Anaemia in Pregnancy must be defeated for a brighter future.”


Andrew Doel, Trainee Bioinformatician, Nutrition Theme

Andrew Doel will be presenting his research on “Hormonal and Epigenetic regulators of growth (HERO-G)”

Growth retardation (manifesting in stunting and wasting) is a major contributor to morbidity and mortality, has intergenerational sequelae and limits the growth of human capital. Unfortunately, recent attempts at addressing this issue have been less efficacious than would be hoped.

The purpose of HERO-G is to enhance our knowledge base regarding the precise contribution to the growth process of the interplay between specific epigenetic modifications and growth-related hormones.We hope that our findings will help inform the development of future novel interventions aimed at reducing the burden of poor growth in developing settings.

Andrew stated, “Most of all, I’m hoping to have a good look at all of the research being conducted by my colleagues at MRCG. I’m also looking forward to meeting those visiting from outside of the unit to discuss the importance of our research work in the wider context of public health in The Gambia.”