Manary’s Gates grant to help kids in Third World

For several years, Mark Manary’s chief professional goal has been to “fix malnutrition for kids in Africa.”

Manary, MD, the Helene B. Roberson Professor of Pediatrics, has been most notably tackling the problem with ready-to-use therapeutic food, a simple yet revolutionary peanut-butter mixture fed to severely and moderately malnourished children.

But his goal has taken him beyond life-saving food. Most recently, he has focused his work on developing a test to detect asymptomatic inflammation of the gut — a very common condition associated with poor growth and development.

To help develop such a test, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis will receive funding through the Biomarkers of Gut Function and Health program within the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative.

The 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.

The funding will aid Manary in continuing his research project entitled “Development of human mRNA as a biomarker for environmental enteropathy.”

“This award is a demonstration of visionary leadership on the part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” Manary said. “The magnitude of the problem is huge, affecting hundreds of millions of kids worldwide, the problem is multifaceted, and the solution is not obvious. But despite the uncertainties, Gates is still moving ahead, demonstrating its commitment to its core values by this endeavor.”

The goal of the Biomarkers of Gut Function grant program is to identify and validate biomarkers that can assess gut function and guide new ways to improve the health and development of children in the developing world.

Manary’s project, which is to receive $773,000 from the foundation, is one of seven grants announced Tuesday.

“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 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.”

Manary’s project is focused on developing a robust, reproducible test to detect asymptomatic inflammation of the gut. The test will detect patterns of human RNA in stool samples, which will identify which children have this problem. Such knowledge would open the door to testing interventions to rid children of the problem. No such test currently exists.

“With such a test, we can definitely know what works and what does not to heal these damaged guts,” Manary said.

An internationally regarded nutritionist, Manary is also director of the Global Harvest Alliance, a joint venture between St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Washington University in St. Louis, and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.