MRC Elsie Widdowson Laboratory conducts nutrition research and surveillance to improve the health of the population, with a focus on cardiometabolic risk and obesity, musculo-skeletal health, intestinal function and nutritional vulnerabilities. The Unit is led by Professor Ann Prentice.
Nutrition and Bone Health – Dr Ann Prentice
Adolescence and skeletal health
A 12 year follow-up of an RCT showed that calcium supplementation prepuberty in Gambian adolescent boys advanced the pubertal growth spurt, resulting in shorter stature but no lasting effect on bone mineral or bone size in young adulthood (J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2014:99:2169-3176). Lifecourse data from the MRC National Survey of Health and Development demonstrated the influence of adolescence growth patterns on skeletal health at age 60-64 years (J Bone Miner Res 2015: 29 123-133). These studies add to our previous research
showing the importance of longitudinal and lifecourse studies to identify determinants of bone health in adolescence and later life.
Vitamin D requirements in pregnancy and old age
As consortium partners in two UK-based RCTs of vitamin D supplementation on bone health in pregnancy (MAVIDOS, led by MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, Southampton) and old age (VDOP, led by the University of Newcastle) we finalised the sample collection and analysis to determine the supplement effect on vitamin D status and related biochemistry. These trials will provide robust evidence on whether there is a need for vitamin D supplementation in these vulnerable groups.
Iron deficiency and phosphate metabolism
Studies in Gambian children have demonstrated an unexpected link between poor iron status and raised fibroblast factor-23, a key hormone involved in phosphate regulation that has been implicated in the aetiology of non-vitamin D deficiency rickets in our previous studies (Endocrine Connections 3:1-10). This shows that iron status needs to be considered in disorders of phosphate metabolism.
Nutrition Surveys and Studies – Polly Page
The National Diet and Nutrition Survey Rolling Programme (NDNSRP) is the only source of reliable data on nutritional intake and status for the UK population. As scientific lead, we have coauthored four government reports presenting headline results from Years 1 to 4, 2008-2012 (combined results) for the UK overall, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and on blood folate results. At our laboratories we have also developed the international gold standard mass-spectrometric research method for measurement of serum folate, thus bringing the UK in line with recommendations of the 2008 international expert workshop that blood folate analysis in the UK should move to research methods selected
as providing the most accurate quantitation possible.
Maternal and Child Nutrition Group: Research grant success – Dr Sophie Moore
Creating brain function for age reference curves: in collaboration with Professor Clare Elwell (UCL).
A prospective infant cohort study of functional neuro-imaging, growth, behavioural and sociodemographic measures in UK (Cambridge) and Gambian infants from birth to 24 months of age has been funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, led by Dr Sophie Moore in collaboration with Professor Clare Elwell (UCL), Dr Sarah Lloyd Fox (Birkbeck), Dr Topun Austin (Evelyn Perinatal Imaging Centre,
Addenbrooke’s) and the MRC Unit The Gambia. The acquired data will be the first longitudinal dataset of functional neuroimaging from
birth and matched between two diverse population groups. The choice of the functional neuroimaging paradigms has been specifically
designed to gather data on a range of cognitive domains and functional connectivity, and enable the calculation of brain function-for-age reference curves. These curves will be used to establish typical and atypical trajectories of neurocognitive development in UK and Gambian infants. The impact of faltering early growth on neurodevelopmental trajectories will be assessed within the Gambian cohort. The results generated by this project will enable the identification of critical windows for developmental delay and guide future proof of concept interventions to protect the at risk brain and reduce long term neurological deficit.