Funded Research

Effects of Childhood Malnutrition on Brain Development
Principal Investigator(s):
  • Ana Maria Arbelaez, M.D., MSCI Pediatrics
  • Christopher Smyser, M.D. Neurology, Pediatrics
  • Center for Metabolism and Immunity
Award Mechanism:
Interdisciplinary Research Initiative
Project Period:
2/1/2018 - 1/31/2020
Total Amount:
Tamara Hershey, Adam Eggebrecht

Project Summary:

A child’s brain remains highly vulnerable to nutritional deprivation well beyond infancy, and failure to meet nutritional demands may produce irreversible deleterious effects on brain structure and function. As malnutrition mortality rates decrease and more children survive into adulthood, it has become critical to understand the developmental consequences of malnutrition.  Recent advances in neuroimaging now provide sensitive biomarkers of brain function that serve as predictors of neurodevelopmental outcomes in children. This proposal builds on work funded by a 1-year award from the CDI that was conducted by a multidisciplinary team in Cali, Colombia, a city with high malnutrition rates and state-of-the-art neuroimaging resources.  The new proposal will study an expanded cohort of children.  

Proposed specific aims

·         Characterize differences in brain structure, function and cognitive performance in 8-10 year-old children with and without malnutrition using magnetic resonance imaging and high density-diffuse optical tomography.

·         Determine the relationship between alterations in brain structure and function and cognitive performance in malnourished children.

Potential impact on child health

This project will objectively assess cognitive deficits due to malnutrition and will serve as a catalyst to inform, improve and expand worldwide food programs to include older children.  It will also foster development of large-scale intervention trials designed to prevent the adverse consequences of malnutrition.