Maternal Nutrition and Fetal Development Focus of OHSU’s New Research Center
February 1, 2012 -- Dr. Kent Thornburg, who teaches in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at Oregon Health & Science University and is known worldwide for his research into the developmental origins of disease – has been named interim director of the Bob and Charlee Moore Institute for Nutrition and Wellness, a new research and education center.
Last fall, the founders of Milwaukie-based whole grain food producer Bob's Red Mill pledged $25 million to OHSU – one of the largest gifts in the school's history – to investigate the nutritional origins of certain diseases.
The school has decided to focus on the link between maternal nutrition, fetal development and health outcomes after a child is born – an area in which Thornburg has already made some startling discoveries.
“I have fingers in a lot of different pots,” Thornburg said of his research, which encompasses many areas of fetal development and involves collaborations with researchers all over the world.
One study – called the Oregon Women's Study – tracked food intake and health outcomes in 150 women in the Klamath Falls area. Fifty were not yet pregnant, 50 were in the early stage of pregnancy and 50 were in the third trimester or postpartum. The children were studied for the first six months of their lives.
Although that study is being prepared for publication, Thornburg was able to disclose one finding -- a pregnant woman's body mass index influences the way a baby develops, and that weight gain during pregnancy has what he called “amazing influences” on lipid profiles in children after they are born.
His other research posited a relationship between a mother's hip measurement and the likelihood her female children would develop a reproductive cancer, and a link between prenatal stress and cardiovascular disease and also investigated the prenatal origins of lung cancer.
“The information is coming at us at a very fast rate,” Thornburg said of research linking maternal-fetal health, early childhood health and health outcomes later in life.
Currently, Thornburg and the other faculty are evaluating letters of intent for projects that could be funded to bring nutritional research findings out into the real world.
The Moores have made a $1 million commitment per year for the first five years to begin program activities and start building endowments. The balance of $20 million is set to come from their estate at some point in the future, according to Mike MacRae, communications manager for the OHSU’s Foundation
Their gift resulted from a series of conversations between the Moores and OHSU about ways the university could make a difference in addressing health problems caused by poor nutrition.
“Although we as a nation seem to realize the important of diet in relation to our overall health, the knowledge is empirical and only evident to those who try it,” according to a statement made by Bob Moore, who noted that Bob's Red Mill had seen a “pleasant increase” in sales in recent years despite the recession, and chose to attach their name to the donation -- rather than make an anonymous gift -- to create a legacy in their family’s name.