HI network member Geoffrey Preidis recently met with HCEO to discuss his work studying how early life undernutrition alters metabolism and influences intestinal and liver function.

"Our laboratory studies mechanisms, by which undernutrition very early in life impairs gastrointestinal and liver function in children," Preidis says. He notes that undernutrition has a range of poor health effects on children, including impairing the immune system, hindering digestion, and decreasing learning potential.

"Undernutrition also has long-term effects beyond those effects that we see in the acute period," he continues. Long-term effects include an increased risk for obesity, Type II diabetes, and heart disease. He notes that these can occur many years after that child was initially undernourished.

One of the key questions his lab is studying is why liver function and gastrointestinal function become impaired by early life undernutrition. He says that one mechanistic possibility is that the gut microbiome plays a role. "We know that poor nutrition causes a very abnormal intestinal microbiome," Preidis says. It's not yet clear to what extent altered gut microbes can impact these functions, but his lab believes their role is important. 

"If we can learn why all of these long-term effects happen from a very brief and defined period of undernutrition early in life, I think the potential is there to really decrease some of the morbidities and improve child health, growth, and development," he says.

Dr. Preidis is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and a physician-scientist at Texas Children’s Hospital.