Saturday, January 2, 2016

2016 Happenings at Biomarkers&Milk

I have not been very reliable about posting to this blog. Part of that was that 2015 was an unbelievably busy year for me, and I had very little time for the blog. Another part of the issue was me - I was uncertain as to whether or not this was still a priority for me. In 2015, I received a large grant from the National Science Foundation for a 3 year birth cohort study in Nubri, Nepal. This project is HUGE and has been very time consuming. I have backed off on the blog simply to have more time for this project.

So what is the future of Biomarkers&Milk? I’m staying. I’m committing to 12 posts in 2016 – one a month – plus additional topical posts. 

Growing up with altitude: field report

Figure 1: Checking in mothers, collecting informed consent at a measurement session.
Last month, I arrived back in the United States after a month long field season in the Himalayas. As it is mid-semester, my trip was designed to maximize field time and minimize missed classroom time. I missed six classes, generous covered by my colleagues from within and outside of the university. We spent just over 3 weeks in the field, and one week in Kathmandu. I arrived Friday evening and we left Sunday afternoon for Nubri; we returned to Kathmandu on Monday and left Friday for the United States. In the interim, we had an amazingly successful project – in 3 weeks, we measured from than 500 children living in the Nubri Valley in 11 major villages and 5 smaller villages both on and off the tourist routes. Upon returning to Kathmandu, we made arrangements with the two largest boarding schools to come and measure children from Nubri who were currently in Kathmandu for schooling. We measured another 270 children in Kathmandu over a 4 day period, bringing our total to just under 800. Based on our demographic data and population census data from the Nepali government, we captured more than 80% of Nubri children, with all but about 35 children living in the Nubri valley measured. We had 1 refusal, and missed the rest of the children because of comings and goings to and from the boarding schools within the villages – they would be in their home village when we measured the boarding school and then in the boarding school when we reached the home village. We also measured almost all women of reproductive age in the villages.

Figure 2: A village in Nubri.
What can I say about the growth project? It was exhausting, and we collected an unbelievable amount of data in just a few weeks. I just started entering data, and it will be a long, but steady process to get everything worked out. We saw unbelievable patterns of migration, and many of the biological and social processes going on will require considerable investigation and thought before we are able – and willing – to better share the research. The growth project was generously sponsored by an early career development grant from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

Figure 3: My three AMAZING field assistants and I. This photo was taken by our camp manager.
The primary reason we were in Nubri however, was to start a longitudinal birth cohort. Thanks to a substantial grant by the National Science Foundation, we have funds to start the first ever high altitude birth cohort study. Over the next 18 months, all children born in 11 study villages will be recruited into the birth cohort. We had intended on recruiting from 9 study villages; my field assistants who will be living in Nubri for the next several years, insisted that we add in three extra villages and remove one village from the study. I think they had great justifications for this, and we have modified recruitment accordingly. We also happened to have great luck with births, and were around for six births, which meant I was able to get birth weights almost immediately. Another 20 women were 5-9 months pregnant and agreed to be in the study – meaning we are starting the birth cohort off with 26 mothers – about a quarter of our targeted sample size. Infants in the birth cohort will be measured at birth by community midwives and each month thereafter until 1 year of age by the 3 field assistants living in the Nubri Valley. We’ll collect milk, basic anthropometrics on mothers and infants, health histories, feeding histories, caregiving and breastfeeding practices, and some really cool body composition data. It is a huge, exhaustive project but has incredible potential to transform what we know about infancy and early childhood in high altitude adapted – and high altitude living – populations.

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