Clinical Nutrition Lab
The Clinical Nutrition Laboratory is dedicated to examining the effects of prenatal and postnatal nutrition on anthropometrics, body composition, metabolism and physical activity of infants and children. A main focus of our research is investigating how nutrition can influence child’s growth and development during a very critical period, the first 1000 days of life, which include prenatal and postnatal periods. Maternal health, body composition and nutrition are all important factors that can influence fetal and neonatal development. In addition, early infant nutrition, growth and body composition may also have short and long term consequences to child’s growth and development. Our laboratory collaborates with multiple other laboratories at ACNC and other institutions to tackle these complex questions using multi-disciplinary approaches.
Maternal programming of growth and body composition
A major focus of our research is to investigate the effects of maternal health, body composition and nutrition pre-conception and during pregnancy on the child’s growth, body composition and metabolism. Dr. Kartik Shankar’s team at ACNC has demonstrated that offspring of obese dams are more susceptible to obesity when challenged with a high fat diet. Our focus in the Clinical Nutrition Laboratory is to examine if these findings translate to women and children. The Glowing study was designed to tackle this question by enrolling 300 pregnant women before gestation week 10, follow them carefully during pregnancy every 6 weeks until delivery and investigating their children’s health, body composition, physical activity and metabolism during the first two years of life. Our goal is to identify the role of maternal adiposity at conception on the offspring’s risk of obesity later in life. However, recent research has shown that differences may be present even prior to conception in oocytes from normal weight vs. obese women leading to changes in offspring metabolism later in life. To tackle this question, we are conducting a study in partnership with Arkansas Fertility and Gynecology clinic to investigate the role of maternal obesity on oocyte gene expression and follicular fluid content.
Neonatal Programming of growth and body composition
Infant nutrition, growth and body composition during the first two years of life also has short and long term consequences to the child’s growth and development. Patterns of nutrition and body composition during infancy are analyzed to understand their effect on later health outcomes. In fact, early infant diet can significantly impact growth and development during infancy. Most infants in the United States are fed breast-milk, cow’s milk based infant formulas or soy-based infant formulas. These diets differ significantly in their nutritional composition. Understanding the similarities and differences between infants fed these three diets is part of a comprehensive, longitudinal, prospective study called the Beginnings Study, which is characterizing the growth and development of infants and children from age 2 months to age 6 years. A follow up of these children during adolescence is also planned.
Methodology Development for Body Composition, Metabolism and Physical Activity
It is important to keep up with the development of new technologies to acquire accurate and precise data during infancy and childhood. The ACNC commissioned the manufacturing of the first quantitative nuclear magnetic resonance instrument (EchoMRI-AH-small) designed specifically for infants and children (0-50 kg). This instrument has been validated in house and for the first time provides a means to longitudinally and repeatedly study the body composition of children from birth through late childhood. We are also actively investigating ways to better estimate energy expenditure in infants and children using indirect calorimetry and physical activity monitoring. Keeping up with the advancement of technologies will guarantee that we use the best available methodologies for all clinical research studies conducted at the ACNC.