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UC Team to Lead Gates Foundation Funded Research. Principal Investigator Laura Woollett, PhD, (center), Jeffery Welge, PhD, (left) and W. Sean Davidson, PhD

UC Team to Lead Gates Foundation Funded Research. Principal Investigator Laura Woollett, PhD, (center), Jeffery Welge, PhD, (left) and W. Sean Davidson, PhD
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Publish Date: 11/06/14
Media Contact: Angela Koenig, 513-558-4625
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UC-Led Research on Fetal Growth Rates Receives Phase II Grant

Researchers from the University of Cincinnati (UC) and collaborators from the United Kingdom and The Gambia have received a $439,282.00 Phase II grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to continue studying fetal growth rates in underdeveloped countries.

"Infants who are born underweight or premature are at risk of acute diseases which can increase their risk of death in their first month of life and into childhood,” says principal investigator Laura Woollett, PhD, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the UC College of Medicine.

Funding for the research, titled "Improving Fetal Growth Rates in Developing Countries,” will be divided between UC and the Medical Research Council (UK) International Nutrition Group, MRC Unit The Gambia and MRC Human Nutrition Research, Cambridge, England.

Phase II funding was awarded by the Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative that enables individuals worldwide to test bold ideas to address persistent health and development challenges.

This is the first Phase II award UC has received.

In 2011, Woollett and researchers Sophie Moore, PhD, MRC Human Nutrition Research Cambridge,  and MRC Keneba, MRC Unit, The Gambia, and Andrew Prentice, PhD, MRC International Nutrition Group, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and MRC Keneba, MRC Unit The Gambia, were awarded a Phase I grant titled "Explore Nutrition for Healthy Growth of Infants and Children.” That research demonstrated a direct correlation between low maternal plasma HDL-cholesterol levels and reduced offspring birth weight in a small cohort of pregnant Gambian women.

As women in resource-poor settings often have low plasma cholesterol levels, part of the increased occurrence of small-for-gestationally aged newborns could be related to the amount of cholesterol or protein carried by HDL or other maternal lipoproteins. The relationship was found to occur only in mid-gestation of these women, making HDL a plausible target for intervention or even a biomarker for women at risk to have low birth weight or premature infants. 

The purpose of the current proposal, Woollett says, is to determine if a relationship exists between maternal HDL (cholesterol levels and/or protein composition) or other maternal lipoproteins and infant birth weight or prematurity in a much larger cohort of Gambian women and their infants. Because inflammation during pregnancy can have adverse effects on pregnancy outcomes and HDL is anti-inflammatory, the team will also assess the extent of inflammation in these same pregnant women.  

"The goal is to discover a novel treatment,” such as whether feeding cholesterol-containing foods in the middle of gestation would improve outcomes, she says.

Co-investigators also include W. Sean Davidson, PhD, and Jeffrey Welge, PhD, who are both faculty members at UC, and Alan Remaley, MD, PhD, of the National Institutes of Health.

The University of Cincinnati serves a diverse community of more than 43,000 students through a balance of educational excellence and real-world experience.  Ranked by the National Science Foundation among the top 30 public research universities in the United States, UC boasts faculty who have distinguished themselves worldwide for creative teaching and research. UC is ranked among the Top Tier of the country's "Best National Universities" according to U.S. News & World Report. In the latest rankings, UC rose to 129th among this Top Tier– up from 156th in 2011. In 2013, UC and its affiliates earned more than $400 million in grants and contracts.

Launched in 2008, Grand Challenges Explorations is a $100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Over 1,070 projects in over 60 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization.

The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required. Phase I grants of $100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a Phase II grant of up to $1 million. Applications for the current open round Grand Challenges Explorations will be accepted through Nov. 12, 2014. 

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