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Department of Dietetics and Nutrition

School of Health Professions > Dietetics and Nutrition > Research > Maternal and Child Nutrition and Development Laboratory

Maternal and Child Nutrition and Development Laboratory

baby being weighed on a scale

The Maternal and Child Nutrition and Development Laboratory conducts research regarding docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) intake during pregnancy and infancy. In addition, the lab studies the effect of DHA on infant/child development including cognitive and visual acuity development. World-renowned experts in their fields, Susan Carlson, Ph.D., John Colombo, Ph.D., and Kathleen Gustafson, Ph.D. are the principal investigators in this highly interdisciplinary collaboration.

What Is DHA?

DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid found in high concentrations in the brain and retina. Breast milk (and since 2002, formulas in the U.S.), contain DHA. Many studies have shown DHA in the diet helps an infant's vision, attention and ability to learn.

In this way, DHA is considered an important nutrient for babies after they are born. DHA may also be important before babies are born.

Multiple large, randomized-controlled trials make up the majority of the laboratory’s research. Supported by a combination of private and federal funding – specifically from the NIH's National Institute of Child Health and Development – the primary aim of these studies is to determine if DHA during early life can affect vision, attention and early-stage learning.

In 2003 Carlson, Colombo and Gustafson collaborated to start their first postnatal supple-mentation study. DHA was given to 159 newborns as part of their formula for the first year of life. These children continued to participate in cognitive assessments until they were six years old. Their diet, growth and rate of illness were also monitored. The team is now in the process of bringing the children back into the lab (now 9 and 10 years old) to participate in MRI brain imaging. Press release

young girl on a scale

In a prenatal supplementation trial that began in 2006, DHA was given to 350 pregnant mothers starting in their second trimester. Offspring were followed closely during the first year of life and continue to participate in cognitive assessments until they are six years old. Diet, growth and rate of illness are also monitored. Genetic differences in the ability to synthesize DHA is a special secondary outcome of this project. Press release

researcher works with child at table

The Maternal and Child Nutrition and Development Laboratory serves as a training ground for students working towards their master's and doctorate degrees in nutrition and cognitive development.

These students are involved in many areas, including the recruitment of potential research participants, developmental and cognitive testing, nutritional assessments, computerized analyses of assessment results, statistical analysis of results and preparation of scholarly articles.

All work in the laboratory complies with the policies on protection of subjects of the Human Subjects Committee at KU Medical Center.

Last modified: Jul 11, 2019

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Lab Director

Susan Carlson

Susan Carlson, Ph.D.
AJ Rice Professor of Nutrition

KU Department of Dietetics and Nutrition

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