Nutrition

Vitamin A in newborn health - mechanistic studies

WHO Technical Consultation

1-3 December 2009, Meeting room M.205
WHO Geneva, Switzerland

Background

The WHO Technical Consultation on Neonatal Vitamin A Supplementation Research Priorities, held in December 2008, recognized the need to study the biological mechanisms that may explain the potential effects of vitamin A supplementation in the first days of life, focusing on improved immune responses and organ maturation.

Following this consultation, WHO worked with several experts to develop a proposal for submission to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to seek funding in order to examine priority questions related to the mechanisms of action of vitamin A in neonates. This proposal received a favourable response and we are now proposing to focus the mechanistic studies on three areas:

  • The absorption, transport, distribution and storage of vitamin A after receipt of a high dose (50 000 IU) vitamin A supplement given in early life.
  • The effect of neonatal vitamin A supplementation on organ maturation.
  • The effect of neonatal vitamin A supplementation on innate and adaptive immune responses.

The Department of Nutrition for Health and Development (NHD) is convening a Technical Consultation to present a more in-depth review of the current knowledge on 1) vitamin A and immunology, 2) the metabolism of vitamin A in early life, 3) animal models for the study of the mechanism of action for vitamin A, and 4) the biological plausibility of vitamin A supplementation reducing mortality in newborns. There will also be a discussion with key experts on the proposed studies and the methodology for answering the proposed questions. Background papers will be commissioned to review these topics.

Objectives

  • Review research questions and the priority research agenda identified during the 2008 WHO Technical Consultation on Neonatal Vitamin A Supplementation Research Priorities.
  • Review existing studies on possible mechanisms of the impact of vitamin A on newborn health.
  • Discuss the current knowledge of vitamin A and immunology in infants.
  • Review the metabolism of vitamin A in early life.
  • Discuss the most appropriate models that can be used to understand the mechanisms of retinol and retinoid actions.

Acknowledgement

The meeting and report were made possible by the financial support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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