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Public health researchers study gut microbiome implications on child health

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Researchers from the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University and the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan received a five-year National Institutes of Health R01 grant totaling $3.5 million to determine if gut microbiome characteristics are associated with differential responses to enteropathogen infections for acute and chronic child health outcomes.

Led by Karen Levy, PhD, at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health and Joseph Eisenberg, PhD, at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, in collaboration with Gabriel Trueba, PhD, at Universidad San Francisco de Quito and Kostas Konstantinidis, PhD, at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the team will evaluate 360 newborn infants across three project sites in the Esmeraldas province of Ecuador to assess environmental influences on gut microbiome development, and whether the gut microbiome helps determine whether children get sick if they have an enteric pathogen infection.

Studies suggest that enteropathogen infections in the first two years of life are associated with serious morbidities, such as diarrhea, gut impairment, growth faltering and cognitive deficits. The team will use state-of-the-art diagnostic and genomic techniques to characterize enteropathogen infections and gut microbial communities at various stages throughout a child’s first two years of life. 

“We aim to understand how environmental conditions help to determine the gut composition of the gut microbiome in children,” explains Levy. “We also are looking at whether the gut microbiome helps determine whether someone gets sick if they have an enteric pathogen infection. Many kids aren’t getting sick when infected with pathogens. We want to find out why, as well as the long-term implications of these infections, whether symptomatic or not.”

Through study findings, the researchers hope that the knowledge gained will help guide environmental interventions and improved child health outcomes in especially high enteric pathogen transmission settings.

“Our research platform in northern coastal Ecuador is a unique setting to study implications of the gut microbiome on health,” explains Eisenberg. “Communities within our study site reside along an urban-rural gradient that share many genetic and social characteristics, but they also have important environmental differences that shape the gut microbiome, such as diet and animal contact. Data from our study promises to make important contributions to our understanding of how the gut microbiome shapes patterns of disease and ultimately how to design effective control strategies.”  



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