Pascale Vonäsch, PhD, "Studying microbiota to combat malnutrition"

Fellow 2017 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science, Pascale Vonäsch is studying the imbalance in the intestinal flora, to fight against undernutrition

Throughout the world, one in four children is affected by growth retardation, predominantly in Africa and Asia(1). The number one cause of this growth retardation is chronic undernutrition. Chronic undernutrition creates the perfect conditions for infection and therefore seriously hampers the normal development of these children. It can even have serious consequences into adulthood. There is no effective treatment at the present time. 

The causes of this undernutrition are many, however Pediatric Environmental Enteropathy (PEE) Syndrome appears to play a major role in the condition. PEE is a chronic inflammation of the small intestine, the main part of the body where nutrients are absorbed, and leads to a diminished nutrient absorption capacity. 

It is thought that an imbalance in the intestinal flora, known as “microbiota”, may be one of the key factors in this syndrome.

Pascale Vonäsch, a post-doctoral researcher at the Molecular Microbial Pathogenesis Unit at Institut Pasteur, has been focusing her research on PEE: “The aim of my project is to study intestinal flora in young children aged 2 to 5, who are and are not suffering from malnutrition, in Bangui (Central African Republic) and Antananarivo (Madagascar). The young Swiss researcher hopes to understand more about this syndrome in order to combat undernutrition, her dream being to “one day alleviate the extreme poverty and situations of hopelessness faced by many, the majority even, of children in this world”.

(1) Black RE et al. Maternal and child undernutrition and overweight in low-income and middle-income countries. Lancet. 2013:382;427-51.

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For Women in Science

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