We are delighted to congratulate our member Dr Ann Prentice OBE, Director of the MRC Elsie Widdowson Laboratory, who has just been made Honorary Professor of Global Nutrition and Health by the University of Cambridge.
The title of Honorary Professor is granted to non-employees of the University in recognition of the substantial benefit they have brought to it. Dr Prentice’s world leading research on nutrient requirements for bone health encompasses the nutritional problems of both affluent and developing societies.
In addition to her Directorship of the MRC Elsie Widdowson Laboratory, Dr Prentice is Head of the Nutrition and Bone Health Group. She is Chair of the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and the Royal Society of Biology, and Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, The Nutrition Society and the Association for Nutrition. She is Honorary Professor of the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, and of Shenyang Medical College, China, and a Visiting Professor of the University of Southampton. Dr Prentice was awarded Fellow of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences (FIUNS) in September 2017, received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Surrey in 2014 and was appointed OBE in the Birthday Honours List of 2006.
To celebrate her new Professorship we have conducted a short Q&A to showcase her work:
Q: Congratulations on receiving your Professorship, what is your reaction?
I was delighted and honoured to be awarded this honorary professorship. It will provide even greater opportunities for me to contribute to the University of Cambridge and the Cambridge Institute of Public Health in the area of global nutrition and health.
Q: How did you first become involved in your field of research?
I studied chemistry, medical physics and natural sciences at the Universities of Oxford, Surrey and Cambridge. My first post-doctoral appointment was to work with Professor Roger Whitehead, Director of the MRC Dunn Nutrition Unit, Cambridge, in his physiological studies of nutritional requirements of mothers and children in The Gambia, West Africa. I lived in a rural village of The Gambia for 5 years researching the effects of maternal nutrition on lactational performance and breast-milk composition in this resource-poor community. My research in The Gambia continues to this day, with a current focus on micronutrient requirements for growth, reproduction and bone health.
Q: Can you tell us about some of the achievements and milestones in your career to-date, as well as some projects you are currently working on?
My career has evolved over time to incorporate broader issues of global nutrition and health, in addition to my in-depth studies of micronutrient requirements for human bone health. This covers growth, in utero and during childhood and adolescence, maintenance of healthy bone in adults and the prevention of rickets and osteoporosis. I am involved in projects studying pregnant and lactating women, children, adolescents and older people in the UK, The Gambia, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa and India, and until recently in Malawi, Bangladesh and China. Recent studies generally involve bone scanning using DXA, pQCT and, in the UK, HR-pQCT along with dietary assessments, anthropometry and biochemical profiling. Examples of current projects include studies of: the effects of supplementation with calcium, vitamin D and other micronutrients during pregnancy on bone health of the mother and her child in The Gambia and the UK; the effects of HIV/ART on bone health in lactating and pre-menopausal women in Kampala, Uganda and Soweto, South Africa; musculoskeletal health in old age and the effects on bone health of migration from rural to urban environments in The Gambia.
I have been fortunate to have had a very exciting and interesting career and am quietly proud of many achievements. Ranking highly amongst these were becoming Director of MRC Human Nutrition Research (now the Elsie Widdowson Laboratory) when it was formed in 1998 after the retirement of Roger Whitehead; my appointment as OBE in 2006 and as Honorary Professor of the University of Cambridge in 2017. Scientifically, I am proud of the many research findings of my Cambridge and Gambian research group over the years. Above all, I am most proud of the opportunities I have been able to provide to PhD students and early stage investigators to further their careers and advance research into global nutrition and health.