Ensuring Cognitive Recovery for Malnourished Children
Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) revolutionized the treatment of severe acute malnutrition for children and has saved millions of lives over the past decade. While RUTF has been proven effective in improving children’s physical recovery, the same investigators who were involved in the early development of RUTF demonstrated that lipids in the current standard RUTF can actually lead to a reduction in the fatty acids necessary to revitalize neural tissue for brain development. These investigators now believe the existing RUTF formula – made from peanuts, palm oil, and milk powder – is not only inadequate to improve neurocognitive development in children but may actually compromise brain growth due to excessive omega 6 fatty acids.
A small study demonstrated that with a slight adjustment in the formula to incorporate newly available non-GMO high-oleic peanuts, RUTF can support physical growth and provide the fatty acids necessary for growth of brain cell structure. With UP support, Dr. Mark Manary and his collaborators led a randomized control trial (RCT) with 3,700 children to learn whether these findings are extended to mental and behavioral development. If the RCT is successful, standard global management of malnutrition will be transformed to enhance brain development while also providing lifesaving physical nourishment to the roughly 3 million children per year who receive RUTF annually.
Results from the RCT, recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that a reformulated RUTF resulted in improved cognitive recovery for children. Dr. Manary and his team are now focused on demonstrating that the production of a reformulated RUTF is feasible at scale and is engaging with regulatory bodies to chance the global standard of care for SAM. UP provided supplemental support to Dr. Manary at Washington University in St. Louis to translate this evidence to global action.