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Lessons Learned: START RA gains valuable experience in the gut microbiota while producing the Gut Health Digest

Lessons Learned: START RA gains valuable experience in the gut microbiota while producing the Gut Health Digest

The human gut microbiota has become a hot topic in scientific and public health research in recent years, and a growing field of evidence suggests that the gut microbiota has a direct impact on maternal, newborn and child health.  For the past two years, the START team had the opportunity to produce a monthly digest for the Enteric and Diarrheal Diseases and Discovery team [now part of the Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health team] at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), highlighting ten of the most relevant articles published each month looking at relationships between the microbiota and childhood development. At the start of the project, the START team emphasized articles looking at associations between the microbiota and environmental enteric dysfunction (EED).  EED contributes to high morbidity and mortality in early childhood, especially in LMICs. The sentinel digests highlighted research showing that the microbiota of children with EED was significantly different from that of children without EED.

Over the tenure of the project, the START team revised their search strategy and selection criteria to adapt to the changing goals and needs of the EDDD team, and the evolving field of literature around the microbiota. The START team sought articles that specifically addressed associations between the gut microbiota and EED or growth, and the relationships between gut health, immune responses (particularly IgA and mucosal immunity), and growth. In addition, the START team looked for articles that highlighted possible drug and biological therapies, such as the use of pre- and pro-biotics, and their impact on the gut microbiota and growth.

Monthly, the START team provided a short commentary, highlighting key findings, limitations, and the importance of the top ten most relevant articles to BMGF’s framework. The commentaries, along with the article abstracts and links to the main articles, were compiled into a monthly digest that was e-mailed to the BMGF, posted to the START website, and sent to a listserv of individuals around the globe who signed up to receive the publication.

Writing the Digest was a wonderful opportunity for the START team. Through the tenure of the project, the team honed their literature search skills, improved our ability to succinctly summarize important research, and learned about the exciting and ever-evolving world of the gut microbiota and its impact on health.

By Dianna Hergott, START Center Research Assistant