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Release: March 12, 2002

UI using two grants to promote maternal-child global health

University of Iowa researchers are using two National Institutes of Health grants to promote women's and children's health through research and/or training. Each study aims to help reduce disparities in global health.

A nearly $1 million training grant from the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health will help fund the exchange of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty between institutions in Brazil and the United States. The "International Maternal and Child Health Research" project grant will last nearly five years and is being led by co-principal investigators Jeff Murray, M.D., UI professor of pediatrics, and biological sciences, and Mary E. Wilson, M.D., UI professor of internal medicine, and microbiology. The grant was effective last June.

Students and faculty from Brazil will benefit from the UI's expertise in epidemiology, clinical trials, genetics, and molecular biology in technology and knowledge transfer. The UI also will gain understanding from their Brazilian peers.

"This is an opportunity for us to strengthen our ties with scientists in Brazil, who have a unique perspective on human diseases because of where they have lived and trained," Wilson said. "Not only will it benefit the individual trainees, but the grant will enhance our mutual exchange of expertise, scientific knowledge and good will between American and Brazilian universities."

The second grant is a five-year, $2.3 million award supported jointly by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Services and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to eight medical centers, including the UI. The award was effective in August 2001. The study focuses on promoting maternal and child health related to cleft lip and palate -- and how to prevent the conditions -- on a global basis.

Murray will serve as the project's principal investigator. Sandy Daack-Hirsch, UI program associate in pediatrics, is the project coordinator, and Ann Marie McCarthy, UI associate professor of nursing, is the behavioral studies coordinator.

Known as "Global Network for Women's and Children's Health Research," the project has three main components, including understanding the impact of cleft lip and palate on disease and death in people who live in underdeveloped countries.

The study also includes a clinical study portion, which will examine whether providing folic acid supplements to women during their pregnancies prevents cleft lip and palate in families that already have one person affected by the condition.

"As less developed countries improve their health care, birth defects such as cleft lip and palate become an increasing larger component of disease burden," Murray said. "Cleft lip and palate is common, easily recognized and preventable in some cases, so it can serve as a sentinel for this aspect of health delivery.

"We are fortunate to have partnered with two outstanding researchers in Brazil, Dr. Ed Castilla and Dr. Danilo Moretti-Feirrera, to spearhead this project," he added.

Researchers from other countries in South America, including Argentina and Chile, also will participate in the project.

Murray co-directs the UI Interdisciplinary Comprehensive Oral Health Research Center of Discovery, which focuses on craniofacial research.

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