Introducing the MRC Neonatal Nutrition Network Project

News article 1 Mar 2018

An LSTM led project aiming to improve neonatal nutrition and gut health in newborns with low birth weight will have its first project meeting in Nigeria next month. The MRC Neonatal Nutrition Network Project is led by Professor Stephen Allen and is looking at improving the chances of infants with low birth weight getting through their crucial first few weeks of life.

“Worldwide, deaths in the first month of life already account for nearly half of all child deaths, with 9 in 10 of these occurring in Africa and Asia and 8 in 10 being babies of low birthweight.” Explains Professor Allen: “While we do not have effective interventions to prevent low birthweight, giving these children the greatest chance of healthy survival is a growing challenge.”

After receiving £218,000 through an MRC Confidence in Global Nutrition and Health Research Institutional “pump-priming” award, the project will establish a core network of six neonatal units across Nigeria and Kenya to improve gut health and early nutrition in preterm and growth-retarded infants. The Network will evaluate current relevant evidence and document variation in feeding practices, identify diagnostic criteria for common diseases, develop core outcomes and share clinical data as a basis for improving practice and future research.

Professor Allen continued: “We know that immature gut structure and function compromises nutrition, facilitate sepsis and risks necrotising enterocolitis. We are keen to establish the infrastructure required to explore whether nutritional interventions used in richer countries, such as probiotics and lactoferrin may be practical, safe and affordable in low resource settings. The network will engage with other neonatal units, building capacity in country and work with local researchers to provide a resource for multicentre clinical trials.”

The meeting in Nigeria will bring together stakeholders and partners over two days targeting neonatologists, resident doctors and nurses practicing in neonatal units. The research team will also hold a two-day workshop to lay some of the groundwork for the network going forward.