Researchers tackle malnutrition on many fronts

Mark Manary, MD ’82, has worked in Malawi for decades on projects to prevent and treat malnutrition. (Courtesy photo)

Mark Manary, MD ’82, the Helene B. Roberson Professor of Pediatrics and one of the world’s foremost experts in childhood malnutrition, works in sub-Saharan Africa, developing and introducing enriched peanut-butter foods to treat malnutrition in children; developing novel complementary foods for infants; and treating children 6 months to 5 years of age with uncomplicated severe acute malnutrition with therapeutic food plus antibiotics. On the antibiotics study, Manary worked closely with Indi Trehan, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics, and their results — which showed that the combination treatment cut death rates from childhood malnutrition compared with therapeutic food alone — helped establish new WHO guidelines in 2013 for treating severe malnutrition.

Manary has also collaborated with Jeffrey Gordon, MD, the Dr. Robert J. Glaser Distinguished University Professor and director of the Center for Gut Microbiome and Nutrition Research, to determine whether gut microbes and their genes undergo changes as a result of treatment with therapeutic foods. And if alterations occur, does the “new state” persist after treatment ends, or are children again at risk of malnutrition. Gordon’s long-term genetic work on the gut microbiome has the potential to improve human nutrition across the globe.