The study was jointly conducted by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR, B).
‘A newly designed therapeutic food repairs the gut microbiome in malnourished children. It also stimulates healthy bone and brain development, as well as leads to better immune and metabolic functions, significantly improving the child’s overall health.’
The research team used a new strategy that selectively boosts only those gut bacteria that have growth-promoting properties. The therapeutic food was developed using ingredients that are locally available, affordable, accessible, and culturally acceptable.
The research findings, published as two separate papers in Science, indicate that healthy development of the gut microbial community following birth is crucial for the overall growth and development of infants.
The study was led by Dr. Tahmeed Ahmed, MBBS, Ph.D, who is the Senior Director of the Nutrition and Clinical Services Division at ICDDR, B.
The senior author was Dr. Jeffrey I. Gordon, MD, who is the Dr. Robert J. Glaser Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Pathology & Immunology and Director of the Edison Family Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, USA.
Childhood Malnutrition and Limitations of Conventional Therapeutic Foods
Childhood malnutrition is a huge global problem that is characterized by stunting, wasting, underweight, and failure to thrive. As per UNICEF/WHO/World Bank Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates (March 2019), currently, there are 149 million stunted and 49 million wasted children under the age of 5 years worldwide.
Malnutrition is associated with an increased risk of infections, as well as impaired cognitive ability, leading to poor school performance. Malnutrition is caused by many factors, the major being the inaccessibility to adequate amounts of affordable, and nutritious food.
Conventional therapeutic foods for children are designed to increase the nutrients that are normally utilized by the body. However, these are largely ineffective in malnourished children suffering from stunting, reduced immunity and impaired cognitive abilities. Gordon believes that the underlying reason is that these therapeutic foods were not designed for promoting the healthy development of the gut microbiome.
Development of Microbiota Directed Complementary Food (MDCF)
The new Microbiota Directed Complementary Food (MDCF), which has been jointly developed by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and ICDDR,B, was based on their previous collaborative studies in healthy and malnourished children in Bangladesh. When they compared the gut microbiota of healthy and malnourished children, they were surprised to find that the bacterial flora in the gut of malnourished children was much more immature than that of their age-matched healthy counterparts. Moreover, conventional therapeutic foods were unable to repair the immature gut microbiota in malnourished children. This led the researchers to focus on developing a new type of designer therapeutic food, which resulted in MDCF.
“We found that children who are malnourished have incompletely formed gut microbial communities compared with their healthy counterparts,” says Gordon.”Therefore, we set about to design therapeutic foods to repair this immaturity and to determine whether such repair would restore healthy growth.”
Immature gut microbiota taken from malnourished children and healthy gut microbiota taken from healthy children were transplanted into mice that were maintained under sterile conditions.
Mice transplanted with immature microbiota became underweight, developed defective bones, as well as abnormalities in immune and metabolic functions. This provided vital evidence that failure to form a healthy microbiota could actually be the cause, rather than the effect of malnutrition.