£1.9m extra funding for major health study being led by University of Central Lancashire academic

University bosses in Preston have landed a £1.9m grant to help fund a potentially life-changing project.

Thursday, 18th April 2019, 9:36 am
Updated Thursday, 18th April 2019, 10:49 am
Professor Nicola Lowe

The University of Central Lancashire is leading a project to tackle zinc and iron deficiency in teenage girls and children in Pakistan.

Financial aid for the study, which is the first large-scale investigation into the potential of biofortified wheat to reduce zinc and iron deficiencies has come from UK Research and Innovation through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), awarded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

The two-year funding will enable Nicola Lowe, Professor of nutritional sciences at UCLan, and her team to build on the research they have done over the past two years.

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She said: “ Zinc and iron deficiencies are huge global public health problems. In Pakistan, more than 40 per cent of women are zinc deficient compared with less than 15 per cent in Europe and North America and over 20 per cent have iron deficiency anaemia.”

The study is looking getting the nutrients naturally by improving the nutritional quality of food crops.

Prof Lowe added: “Wheat is the staple crop in Pakistan and most families consume chapatis, made from wheat flour, with every meal.

“This demonstrates how much of a need there is to be able to produce wheat which is boosted with zinc and iron.”

She added: “The £1.9 million funding will allow us to scale up the research programme to investigate the effect of increasing the intake of these nutrients on the health of young people.”

During the first six months of the trial, 500 girls, aged from 10 to 16 years and 500 children, aged one to five, living in a low-resource community in North West Pakistan will eat their usual locally bought flour.

For the next six months, they will eat either biofortified flour or standard flour, both of which will be grown locally, and a range of biochemical measures will be taken to assess the impact of consuming biofortified flour on zinc and iron status and general health.

Besides the consumption of biofortified wheat, the research will also focus on understanding wheat growing conditions in Pakistan and supporting farmers to improve the yield and grain quality of biofortified wheat.

The UCLan team is working with academics and medical professionals from the University of Nottingham, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Kings College London, Pakistan’s Khyber Medical University, British Geological Survey and the Abaseen Foundation.