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Liggins Institute Funding for Healthy Growth Research

Media release
05 December 2012

The University of Auckland’s Liggins Institute receives funding for Healthy Growth Research

The Liggins Institute of The University of Auckland, New Zealand announced today that it will receive funding through the Achieving Healthy Growth program within the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative. This initiative was launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to overcome persistent bottlenecks preventing the creation of new and better health solutions for the developing world. Sir Peter Gluckman, University Distinguished Professor, will pursue a research project entitled “Epigenetic mechanisms, stunting and poor growth; targets for interventions”.

“In the developing world around one third of children under five are stunted and will never achieve their growth and cognitive potential,” said Sir Peter. “The effects are devastating both for individuals and their communities.

“This grant will enable a multidisciplinary collaboration of researchers in New Zealand, Jamaica, Ghana and Singapore to define the biological mechanisms which operate across generations and during development to cause the condition.”

The goal of the Healthy Growth grant program is to discover the causes of faltering growth during the first 1,000 days of life and to identify effective and affordable interventions to promote healthy growth.

Sir Peter’s project is one of seven grants announced today.

“Safeguarding the health of young children is one of the world’s most urgent priorities and a core focus of our work,” said Chris Wilson, Director of Discovery & Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We hope the suite of grants announced today will give us a deeper understanding of the reasons underlying stunted growth in children in the developing world and how this can be predicted to guide new approaches to improve the health and development of these children.”

The project builds on long-standing collaborations between Professor Gluckman and Professor Terrence Forrester Director of the Tropical Metabolism Research Institute at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica; and between Professor Forrester and Professor Jacob Plange-Rhule, Chair of Physiology at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana. Researchers will use new methods of epigenetic analysis developed at the Liggins Institute by Dr Allan Sheppard, coupled with bioinformatics conducted by Dr Joanna Holbrook of the Singapore Institute of Clinical Sciences, to look for epigenetic patterns that are specifically associated with stunting in Jamaican and Ghanaian populations

“Our aim is to understand what regulates the molecular and physiological pathways that lead to stunting and identify points which are susceptible to nutritional influences during development. This will help us to develop specific interventions that could be applied in at-risk populations before, during or after pregnancy to prevent the condition developing or reduce its severity,” said Sir Peter.


About the Grand Challenges
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recognizes that solving our greatest global health and development issues is a long-term effort. Through Grand Challenges, the foundation along with other Grand Challenge partners such as USAID , Grand Challenges Canada, and Brazil’s Ministry of Health, are committed to seeking out and rewarding not only established researchers in science and technology, but also young investigators, entrepreneurs and innovators to help expand the pipeline of ideas to fight diseases that claim millions of lives each year.

About the Liggins Institute

The Liggins Institute is a Large-Scale Research Institute of The University of Auckland, New Zealand. The Institute’s research demonstrates the importance of children having a healthy start to life and the ongoing role of nutrition in promoting and supporting optimal health throughout life. The multidisciplinary, translational research seeks to understand the biological mechanisms that drive critical processes during development and harness that knowledge in ways that will improve quality of life across nations and generations.


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