Maternal and Child Nutrition and Development Laboratory
Studies conducted within the Maternal and Child Nutrition and Development Laboratory focus on nutrition and cognitive development. Many studies highlight the important role of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in high concentrations in the brain and retina.
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.
In 2003 Carlson, Colombo and Gustafson collaborated to start their first postnatal supplementation study. Docosahexaenoic acid (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 and their diet, growth and rate of illness were also monitored.
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.
In 2021, Carlson was one of three principal investigators on a study published in EClinicalMedicine, a clinical journal of The Lancet. Early preterm birth, defined as birth before 34 weeks gestation, is a serious public health issue because these births result in the highest risk of infant mortality and child disability. The study showed that early preterm births may be dramatically decreased with DHA supplements. Read more
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.