By Donna Lu A simple test can help predict how well babies will growAzeezur Rahman Khan/EyeEm/Getty ImagesWe can now use urine or blood samples to predict how well an infant is likely to grow over its next six months. Margaret Kosek at the University of Virginia and her colleagues have developed a predictive model that…
By Donna Lu
We can now use urine or blood samples to predict how well an infant is likely to grow over its next six months.
Margaret Kosek at the University of Virginia and her colleagues have developed a predictive model that can forecast infant growth based on the presence of several biomarkers. They believe this could be used to improve interventions for children in developing countries who are chronically malnourished.
Over two years, the researchers took urine at regular intervals from 779 infants in Bangladesh, Peru and Tanzania who were aged 3 months to 2 years. They also measured the children’s body length every month from birth.
A subset of these children, who were in roughly the top 9 per cent for linear growth, were used as a healthy reference group. These were infants who were growing well despite adversity, says Kosek, although their height and growth was often below the median for well-nourished children in other countries.
The team measured eight different compounds excreted in urine and found significant differences in levels of certain metabolites between the healthy growers and the other children. Children with constrained growth lagged in metabolic maturity relative to their healthier peers, and this was evident as early as 3 months old.
The metabolites that were most predictive for growth were those associated with the citric acid cycle, also known as the Krebs cycle – a series of chemical reactions our cells use to generate energy. Another was betaine, which is associated with the metabolism of tryptophan, an essential amino acid.
The research suggests that children in the countries involved in the study could be more protein-deprived that previously thought.
“We’ve measured their protein intake and most of them are getting what we think are adequate protein intakes,” says Kosek. But the metabolic signatures they found suggest that children in these regions, who are exposed to infectious diseases more frequently, may have increased nutritional requirements.
Chronic malnutrition in children has been a global health problem for the past 30 years, and this tool could help health professionals identify children who are beginning to fall behind in growth and intervene early, she says.
Journal reference: Science Advances, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay5969
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