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Mothering Sun-Day: MRC Keneba Study Photo Selected for First Prize in MRC Centenary Photography and Art Competition in Cambridge, UK

November 2013- Georgia Billing, PhD student supervised by Dr Gail Goldberg at MRC Human Nutrition Research, has won a photo competition as part of MRC Centenary events. Although her background is in osteoarchaeology, Georgia’s research is now focussed on vitamin D metabolism, lactation, and bone health, and she ran a project on mother-infant pairs with help from MRC Keneba staff. During her time in Keneba, Georgia kept a photographic record of study activities, which included mothers collecting breast milk samples, blood collections to measure vitamin D status, and placing electronic badges to measure UVB from sunlight exposure. Georgia is now analysing the final samples and data in preparation for her PhD thesis.


Andrew Prentice elected to International Union of Nutritional Sciences Council

October 2013: ING Director, Professor Andrew Prentice has been elected to the IUNS Council. He was nominated by the Nutrition Association of Thailand.  Congratulations also to Prof Anna Lartey, member of ING’s Scientific Advisory Committee, on her election as President of IUNS during the International Congress of Nutrition in Granada.


ING awarded Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant to improve understanding of complex relationship between nutrition, physical and cognitive growth and development, and health

Oct 2013 – This new grant will be used to develop pathophysiologically-based systems models to provide a quantitative framework for characterizing the complex causal link between nutrition intake, physical and cognitive growth and development, and health as a function of time.  ING will share its extensive, historic anthropometric database with modellers at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and work jointly with them on new systems models.


ING to welcome president of the World Congress of Public Health Nutrition

October 2013: Next year’s World Congress of Public Health Nutrition (WCPHN) will be held in Banjul, The Gambia and in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, in November 2014 (link: ING is pleased to announce that in the run up to the meeting it will be hosting the WCPHN President and Chairman, Professor Luis Serra Manjem and other delegates in Keneba.


Humans are still evolving

September 2013: Our collaborator Dr Ian Rickard has a piece in the UK’s Guardian newspaper ( arguing that humans are continuing to evolve.  This piece is in response to an earlier article by Sir David Attenborough suggesting that natural selection in humans has come to a halt.  Evidence for Dr Rickard’s thesis comes in part from earlier work (The Demographic Transition Influences Variance in Fitness and Selection on Height and BMI in Rural Gambia.) conducted in Keneba.


ING shares major award from Gates Foundation for research on Hepcidin and Iron in Global Health

September 2013: A $1.8m grant over 3y from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation establishes the HIGH Consortium to create a cross-disciplinary collaborative platform between Professor Andrew Prentice’s team at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and at MRC Keneba, The Gambia, and Dr Hal Drakesmith’s team at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine in Oxford.

The consortium will combine clinical, epidemiological and intervention studies in Sub-Saharan Africa and Sri Lanka with experimental and mechanistic studies in Oxford. The goal is to use new insights in hepcidin biology, iron metabolism and nutrition to transform iron supplementation strategies in malaria-endemic regions and hence improve global health. The first objective is to develop and validate a hepcidin-based diagnostic to define ‘ready-and-safe-to–receive’ iron. The consortium will aim to leverage further funds to broaden this remit through additional collaborations.

For further information contact:

Prof Andrew Prentice, MRC ING ()

Dr Hal Drakesmith, MRC HIU ()

Dr Pierre Coulin, MRC Keneba ()


More toil and trouble for iron

September 2013: An ING commentary in today’s issue of JAMA (see commentary from Andrew Prentice) summarises a new publication comparing Sprinkles with and without iron in Ghana (see publication from Stanley Zlotkin).

Iron-containing Sprinkles surprisingly appeared to protect children from malaria – especially those with iron deficiency anemia (IDA). But there was a significant increase in potentially serious adverse events as measured by hospitalisations in the children receiving iron. This further underlines the need to find safer ways of giving iron to children.

Further information from Reuter’s on this topic:


Unexpected long-term effects of calcium supplementation in pregnancy on maternal bone outcomes in women with a low calcium intake: a follow-up study

September 2013: An ING study in rural Gambian women with a low-calcium diet has found that a calcium supplement of 1500 mg/d during pregnancy results in lower maternal bone mineral content in the subsequent lactation that persisted long term.

The study suggests that rural Gambian women who are accustomed to a low calcium intake have physiologic mechanisms that enable them to replenish the bone mineral that is mobilized during pregnancy and lactation, but that a period of calcium supplementation during pregnancy disrupts this process.  In the long term this results in lower skeletal mineral content.

The research is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition


ING at the London MRC Centenary Science Fair

June 2013: The International Nutrition Group were joined by other London-based MRC Units at a family-orientated Science Fair at University College London on 29th June. This was part of MRC’s centenary celebrations, marking 100 years of life-changing discoveries ( ING hosted an interactive exhibit of African foods with a special children’s quiz,  nutrient supplements with free tasters and posters describing our scientific work.  There was also a photo exhibition and lectures on ‘Surviving Feasts and Famines’.  Refreshments included baobab smoothies and wonjo ices sold in support of the Gambia Malnutrition Fund, all accompanied by live kora music from Gambian musician Jally Kebba Susso


DNA methylation potential: dietary intake and blood concentration of one-carbon metabolites and cofactors in rural African Women.

June 2013 – New publication: Our research in The Gambia demonstrates that naturally occurring seasonal variations in food-consumption patterns have a profound effect on blood methyl-donor biomarker status. These data explain our previously paradoxical observations of increased DNA methylation in individuals conceived during the nutritionally challenged rainy season.

This publication in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is accompanied by an editorial by Christpher W Kuzawa entitled “You are what your mother ate?”, as well as a podcast of Prof Andrew Prentice talking through the paper.


Major donation to West Kiang Village Development Fund

June 2013 – Deep thanks to Peter and Cheryl Brewer who have made an extremly generous donation to support the extension of women’s gardens in West Kiang.

Critical windows for interventions against stunting

Mai 2013 – New publication:In a Perspective in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition ING scientists emphasise that opportunities to enhance growth and development persist well beyond the ‘first 1000 days’. Interventions outside the first 1000 days are also essential to prepare for a healthy pregnancy.


Congratulations to Andrew Prentice on his election to the Academy of Medical Sciences

May 2013 – Academy fellows are elected for excellence in medical research, for innovative application of scientific knowledge or for their conspicuous service to healthcare. The expertise of the new Fellows spans pharmacology, cell biology, biomedical engineering, childhood cancers, suicide prevention and international health.

New Collaboration Manager/Research Facilitator appointed at MRC Keneba

Mai 2013 – We are delighted to welcome Dr Pierre Coulin as new Collaborations Manager/Research Facilitator at Keneba, The Gambia.

Pierre Coulin has an MSc in Agriculture Engineering and a PhD in Food Science (with fieldwork in Ivory Coast) from ETH Zurich, Switzerland. He also did a MBA in Economics and Marketing at the University of Basle, Switzerland.


Evolution persists despite modern medicines

April 2013 – Using Keneba’s demographic data stretching back many decades Ian Rickard and colleagues have demonstrated that evolution, in this case favouring tallness, is still occurring despite rapidly falling mortality. The paper of Courtiol et al. in Current Biology attracted a Biology Dispatch commentary and media coverage in The Times citing Gwyneth Paltrow as an example. Holly Baxter of The Guardian generated a blog storm by lambasting The Times for ‘lazy, reductive sexism that pervades science reporting’.

See paper in Current Biology: The Demographic Transition Influences Variance in Fitness and Selection on Height and BMI in Rural Gambia.

See article in The Times: Long and short of it that tall, slim women have more babies

See atricle in The Guardian: Gwyneth Paltrow and the media exlpoitation of evolutionary science


Microbes and the malnourished child

April 2013 – New publication: In the cover story for the April issue of Science Translational Medicine scientists from ING and MRC Unit The Gambia synthesized recent evidence on the links between the gut microbiome and severe malnutrition and on the role of antibiotics  as adjunctive therapy during nutritional rehabilitation of severely malnourished children.


PUFA supplementation not necessary for breastfed babies

January 2013 – New publication: A randomized controlled trial of PUFA supplementation in Gambian infants aged 3-9m showed no benefits on growth, gut function or cognitive development. Published in AJCN this research was conducted by Liandré van der Merwe as her PhD project.




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