Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine announced last week 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.
Charles H. King, professor of international health and epidemiology and biostatistics, will pursue a research project titled, “Enhancing Infant Immunity: Effect of Early Maternal Treatment for Parasitic Infections.”
“Children in developing countries do not always respond appropriately to life-saving vaccines,” King said, “and although several factors may be responsible for this poor vaccination response, chronic parasitic infections appear to play a significant role. We aim to determine how the effects of maternal parasite infections are linked to reduced vaccine efficacy and whether prenatal anti-parasite treatment can reverse this effect.”
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.
King’s project is one of seven grants.
“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.”
Parasitic infections are a group of debilitating chronic diseases affecting millions of people worldwide. They greatly impact early childhood development, lead to life-threatening disease and interfere with children’s ability to respond to life-saving vaccines. Case Western Reserve’s research program will determine how parasitic infections in pregnant mothers affect the developing fetal immune system, how this interference is mediated and whether earlier prenatal parasitic treatment can reverse the trend. These studies are crucial to facilitate current global vaccination programs, future vaccine trials and ongoing parasite treatment and control programs.
The program relies on the considerable resources and expertise at Case Western Reserve, Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, and the Division of Vector Borne and Neglected Diseases of the Kenyan Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation. The initiative is based on the group’s more than 28 years of collaborative studies in the underserved coast of Kenya, where multiple parasitic infections are endemic.
King is an infectious disease specialist, epidemiologist and senior member of the Center for Global Health and Diseases at Case Western Reserve, and the Schistosomiasis Consortium for Operational Research and Evaluation at the University of Georgia. Since 1984, he has been active on parasite control and immunology research in Kenya, and has recently focused on modeling and implementation of advanced programs for schistosomiasis control and elimination. His current research focuses on identifying human and environmental ecological drivers of vector-borne parasite transmission, and the design of more effective, integrated programs for parasite control.