The Bloomsbury Colleges | PhD Studentships | Studentships 2021 | Do infections (helminthic parasites or food-borne pathogens) cause childhood stunting? An interdisciplinary study to elucidate linkages between child stunting, maternal and infant infection and gut health.
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Do infections (helminthic parasites or food-borne pathogens) cause childhood stunting? An interdisciplinary study to elucidate linkages between child stunting, maternal and infant infection and gut health.

Principal Supervisor: Professor Joanne P. Webster, RVC

Co-Supervisors: Dr James Rudge, LSHTM, Dr Barbara Häsler, RVC

Project Description

Stunting remains a critical public health problem among children under the age of five years in many low and middle income countries globally, yet the relative importance of many key factors involved in its aetiology remains unknown.  Infectious agents, particularly helminthic parasites, as well as food-borne pathogens, within the mother and child have been proposed as key factors, either directly or indirectly. Equally, we know a range of elements can help to prevent stunting, including, but by no means exclusive to, animal source Foods (ASF).  A prime focus of a recently initiated GCRF Hub, the GCRF Action Against Stunting Hub, is to elucidate the mosaic and synergies between a wide range of potential component parts involved in the typology of stunting.

The main aim of this thesis project is to help elucidate the synergies, interactions and relative strengths and directionality between specific key proposed drivers of stunting, with a focus on the parasites and pathogens of mother and infant and their direct and indirect impact on health (including gut health and microbiome profiles).  The information gathered will be used to help create a new typology of stunting which identifies the scope for potential for change among populations of affected children.

Provisional objectives (dependent in part on the preferences and skill sets of the successful applicant):

1)    To review systematically literature on the linkages between infection (notably helminthic parasites and food-borne pathogens) on childhood stunting (physical and cognitive);

2)    To gather field data from mothers and infants in Senegal focusing on the targeted impact of urogenital (including hybridized) and intestinal schistosomiasis on child health and stunting, with complementary molecular typing in the laboratory;

3)    To analyse statistically the relationships between these variables and outcomes using data collected in the GCRF Action Against Stunting Hub primarily from Senegal, but with complementary data from Indonesia and India;

4)    To characterise a novel conceptualisation of stunting considering pathways between infectious agents, gut health, nutrition, and childhood stunting;

5)    To develop novel mathematical models aimed to predict the impact of potential interventions on stunting and health and/or the economic consequences thereof.

The project will utilize, complement and add to data generated in the GCRF Action Against Stunting Hub. Primarily it will focus on data streams (parasitology, gut health, food systems) generated in the Kaffrine field site in Senegal, where the GCRF Action Against Stunting Hub will follow a cohort of 500 pregnant women and their children, i.e. a period from pregnancy until the age of two years.  These will be analysed in complement with data obtained by partners within the Indian and Indonesian sites.

There is flexibility for the student to focus/specialise in what areas are of the greatest interest to them.  However, the main initial focus of this PhD research is analytical and quantitative, i.e. we are looking for a person with good interdisciplinary thinking and a strong interest in data handling and analysis. Because there are also complementary field and laboratory components, technical skills and field experience are a plus. Experience and/or an interest in mathematical modelling would be a bonus. Likewise, knowledge of stunting in relation to infections, health, and/or animal source food is an advantage, but not an essential requirement.

This project offers an exciting opportunity to become part of a large interdisciplinary international project with world-class researchers working on stunting across four countries (UK, Senegal, Indonesia, India). Outputs have the potential to offer immediate relevance to stunting in low and middle income countries by generating new knowledge to help elucidate key pathways that lead to stunting and/or poor health in vulnerable populations. By having such knowledge, interventions can be targeted towards outcomes that have the biggest potential for impact.

Subject Areas/Keywords

Stunting, statistical analysis, parasitic infections, schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted-helminths, animal source foods, parasitological and molecular analyses.

Key References:

-       Leroy, J., et al., 2019. What Does Stunting Really Mean? A Critical Review of the Evidence,  Advances in Nutrition, 10 (2) 196-204

-       Osakauno, D.N.M. et al., (2018).  Dynamics of paediatric urogenital schistosome infection, morbidity and treatment: a longitudinal study among preschool children in Zimbabwe.  BMJ Global Health, 2, e000661

-       Nampiga, M. et al., 2012.  Effects of maternal worm infections and anthelminthic treatment during pregnancy on infant motor and neurocognitive functioning.  J Int. Neuropsych. Soc. 18, 1019-1030.

-       Berkman, D.S. et al., (2002). Effects of stunting, diarrhoeal disease and parasitic infection during infancy on cognition in late childhood.  Lancet, 359, 564-571.

Further details about the project may be obtained from:

Principal Supervisor: Joanne Webster, jowebster@rvc.ac.uk

http://www.rvc.ac.uk/about/our-people/joanne-webster

https://jowebstergroup.co.uk/

Co-Supervisors: Dr James Rudge, LSHTM, James.Rudge@lshtm.ac.uk, Dr Barbara Häsler, RVC, bhaesler@rvc.ac.uk

Further information about PhDs at the Royal Veterinary College is available from:

https://www.rvc.ac.uk/study/postgraduate/phd

Information about how to apply is available here:

https://www.rvc.ac.uk/study/postgraduate/phd/how-to-apply / researchdegrees@rvc.ac.uk

For more information on the application process and English Language requirements see How to Apply.

Interviews will take place over zoom. We welcome informal enquiries - these should be directed to Joanne Webster, jowebster@rvc.ac.uk

Deadline for applications: 31st January 2021