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About SickKids

July 29, 2011

SickKids innovators win international grant competition

Researchers look to improve maternal and neonatal survival in developing countries

A team of researchers from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) has been successful in a global competition geared to finding the most innovative approaches for improving maternal and neonatal survival in rural regions of low-income countries.

The international grant competition, Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development, was sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, The World Bank, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Grand Challenges Canada. There were more than 600 original applicants. The finalists attended an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., which was opened by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. SickKids was one of 19 winners to receive a Grand Challenge award. These awards are geared to identifying roadblocks to solving critical global health issues.

The SickKids project, Prenatal calcium to prevent preeclampsia and pre-term birth in resource-poor rural settings, is a proposal to develop “Prenatal Sprinkles.” The original Sprinkles, a micronutrient powder developed to address vitamin and mineral deficiencies in infants and young children, was created at SickKids by Dr. Stanley Zlotkin. This new version is designed for use by pregnant women in low-income countries as a means of delivering microencapsulated calcium, iron and folic acid to address the long-standing critical health problems associated with two conditions: anemia in pregnancy, associated with premature birth, and preeclampsia associated with hypertension, a major cause of maternal and fetal death. Anemia is prevented by the use of iron and preeclampsia is prevented by the use of calcium. However, to date, combining iron and calcium has not been possible as the calcium interferes with iron absorption. The new product will contain pH-sensitive time-release microencapsulated iron and calcium to overcome this problem, thus enabling both nutrients to be safely delivered together. The grant will be used to develop and test “Prenatal Sprinkles.”

The SickKids team is comprised of Dr. Daniel Roth, Dr. Stan Zlotkin, Ashley Aimone (PhD student) and Dr. Diego Bassani, as well as collaborators from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baylor College of Medicine and ICDDR,B (Bangladesh).

“Innovation at SickKids is a major priority and this project is an example of innovation in action,” said Zlotkin, Vice-President, Medical and Academic Affairs at SickKids and Professor of Pediatrics, Public Health Sciences and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto.

“This award strengthens SickKids’ engagement in global health research,” said Roth, Staff Physician, Division of Paediatric Medicine at SickKids and Assistant Professor, Department of Paediatrics at the University of Toronto. “This grant will help solidify a research team at SickKids as well as nurture collaborations with other international institutions. Our hope is that our project will eventually contribute to lowering maternal and neonatal illness and mortality in low-resource regions of the world.”

Initial product testing is expected to begin in 12 to 18 months in Bangladesh.