Embarking on a profound exploration, this plenary session on Global Health Challenges delves into the crucial issues that profoundly impact the well-being of communities worldwide. As part of the McDonnell Academy Global Research Symposium, we bring together distinguished experts and passionate advocates who are dedicated to understanding and addressing the complex health challenges we face. From infectious diseases to health disparities and from healthcare access to mental well-being, this session serves as a platform to explore innovative solutions and forge collaborations that can advance global health equity and resilience. United in our mission, we work together to build a healthier future for everyone.

Key Takeaways

Jorge Llibre Guerra: Though there has been significant progress in understanding the main genetic drivers of Alzheimer’s disease in the last three decades, studies have mostly told a US- and Europe- centric story, leaving “blind spots” in parts of Latin America and Africa.Gaby Vintimilla, Iván Tomás Palacios León & Lora Iannotti: There are 150 million children with stunted growth globally. More studies are needed to understand how deficiencies in key nutrients, such as iron, zinc, and choline, affect early brain development.
Evelyn Bonney & George Kyei: The African continent bears the brunt of the HIV pandemic (~70 percent), yet less than 5 percent of HIV research involves African patients or scientists. There is an urgent need to involve African patients and scientists in HIV cure research.Guillermo Rosas: Technical knowledge and expertise should guide public health policy, yet technically perfect solutions will not become policy if they are politically inexpedient. 
Leyao Wang & Beatrice Irene Nyann: Asthma prevalence has been increasing in Africa. The infant nasal microbiome is a promising mechanism to understand asthma development.Mark Huffman: The Translational Science Benefits Model is a useful framework to help demonstrate the impact of academic research in the real world and recognize the knock-on effects.
Global Health

The Highlights

The third plenary delved into critical public health challenges impacting the well-being of communities in St. Louis and around the world. Chaired by Mark Huffman, professor of medicine and co-director of WashU’s Global Health Center, this session provided a platform to explore innovative solutions to advance global health equity and resilience.

Jorge Llibre Guerra, assistant professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, presented an overview of the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network and ongoing efforts to expand their work in Latin America. For his seed grant-funded project with collaborators at the University of Chile, Llibre Guerra sought to enhance clinical genetic testing and family counseling for Alzheimer’s disease in Chile. The pilot data and field experience are now also facilitating outreach in other countries across Latin America. One important insight is that there are different attitudes towards genetic testing across Latin American countries, with only 44% in Colombia who want to know their genetic status compared to 89% in Argentina.

Professors Gaby Vintimilla and Iván Tomás Palacios León from Universidad San Francisco de Quito joined Lora Iannotti, professor in the Brown School and director of the E3 Nutrition Lab, to present the Mikhuna Project in Ecuador, focusing on nutrition effects on early brain development. This is a randomized control study during pregnancy in rural, low-resource communities in Ecuador, with the intervention group receiving a food basket with animal source foods and a diverse range of native fruits and vegetables, and a control group engaged through workshops. The team is looking at fetal and newborn outcomes at four measurement timepoints (weeks 12, 21, 35, and 1-2 weeks post-partum). Seed grant funding is supporting further research into the effects of nutrition on breastmilk composition and brain development during the first three months of life.

Evelyn Bonney from the University of Ghana and George Kyei, who holds a joint appointment at WashU and at the University of Ghana, presented their work on building capacity for HIV cure research, antimicrobial stewardship and infection prevention in Ghana. They observed that the past ten years have seen major advances in HIV cure research, such as the shock and kill approach. Yet most of this research is done in the western world without involving African patients or scientists. To address this gap, Kyei has been training scientists in Ghana. His seed grant-funded project focusing on antimicrobial stewardship and infection prevention at the University of Ghana Medical Center has already led to an additional grant from Pfizer-West Africa to bring the team from Ghana to WashU for a one-month intensive training.

For their project on political ideology, affective polarization and Covid-19 mitigation across Latin America, political scientists Guillermo Rosas from WashU and Sebastián Vallejo Vera from the University of Western Ontario and Tecnológico de Monterrey, teamed up with a multidisciplinary, multinational team. To understand attitudes, knowledge and behavior related to Covid-19 in Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico, they conducted two waves of surveys of more than 8,000 respondents in 2021 and 2022. They found that affective polarization shapes attitudes toward epidemiological and economic policy responses to Covid-19 and drives respondents’ policy preferences. They are also looking into how this connection is mediated by views on religion and science.

Leyao Wang, assistant professor of medicine at WashU, studies the origins and etiology of asthma, one of the most common chronic diseases in children. The infant nasal microbiome is a promising mechanism to prevent asthma, however, it has not been well characterized. This is the goal of an ongoing collaboration with Beatrice Irene Nyann and Christiana Kuti at the University of Ghana Medical Center, launched with seed grant support from the McDonnell Academy. From the samples the team has collected and analyzed so far, there are differences in the infant nasal microbial compositions in WashU and Ghana. The most abundant beneficial bacteria transferred from mother to infant nasal microbiome in both locations was Corynebacterium. The team hopes to scale the study by building capacity to do some of the testing on the ground in Ghana rather than shipping the samples to WashU. 

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Eric P. Newman Education Center (EPNEC), Medical School Campus

Plenary SessionGlobal Health ChallengesLocation
7:00amRegistration & Continental BreakfastEPNEC Foyer
7:50 – 8:00amWelcome Remarks & Introductions
Laura Benoist, Director, McDonnell International Scholars Academy
EPNEC Auditorium
8:00 – 10:30amMODERATOR
Mark Huffman, School Medicine, Washington University in St. Louis


Enhancing medical genetic services and family counseling for Alzheimer’s disease in Latin America
Jorge Llibre Guerra, Washington University in St. Louis
Marisol Londoño Castaño, University of Antioquia

Testing an association between nutrition during pregnancy, human milk composition, and infant brain development during the first three months of life in a low resource community in El Quinche, Ecuador

Lora Iannotti, Washington University in St. Louis
Iván Tomás Palacios León and Gabriela Vintimilla Andrade, Universidad San Francisco de Quito

Building Capacity in HIV Cure Research, Antimicrobial Stewardship and Infection Prevention in Ghana
George Kyei, Washington University in St. Louis
Evelyn Yayra Bonney, University of Ghana

Does Politics Make You Sick: Examining the Influence of Political Ideology on COVID-19 Mitigation Across The Americas
Guillermo Rosas, Washington University in St. Louis
Sebastián Vallejo Vera, University of Western Ontario

Characterize the infant nasal microbiome in on a global scale
Leyao Wang
, Washington University St. Louis
Beatrice Irene Nyann, University of Ghana
Professor Christiana Kuti, University of Ghana

10:30 – 11:00amBreakEPNEC Foyer

Global Research Symposium Workshops: Global Health

The faculty-driven workshops at our symposium offer a unique opportunity for participants to dive deep into specialized topics, guided by renowned experts in their respective fields. These workshops are designed to foster interactive learning, facilitate skill development, and encourage meaningful dialogue among attendees. Join us as we embark on an enriching journey of discovery and growth through our faculty-driven workshops.

Saturday, October 7, 2023 | 2:00 – 4:00 PM

All workshops hosted at the Eric P. Newman Education (EPNEC) Center at Washington University School of Medicine.

Designing and testing nutrition interventions in global health research

Led by: Prof. Lora Ianotti, Brown School, Washington University in St. Louis, Prof. Iván Tomás Palacios León, and Prof. Gabriela Vintimilla Andrade, Universidad San Francisco de Quito

Malnutrition in the first 1,000 days of life contributes disproportionately to global burden of disease. Over 148.1 million (22%) children around the world experience stunted growth with life-long consequences for immune function, brain development, reproductive health, educational attainment, and livelihoods. This workshop will introduce strategies for designing and testing interventions to prevent malnutrition in this critical window of the life course. Workshop objectives are the following: 1) describe the stages of intervention research development; 2) introduce standard and novel methods in public health nutrition (anthropometry, dietary assessment, biomarkers); 3) provide the rationale and basic approaches to social marketing using case examples from Haiti, Ecuador, and Kenya; and 4) discuss and debate controversial and future nutrition topic areas (animal source foods, climate change/food systems, brain imaging, etc.). The workshop will accommodate up to 50 people.

Adults and Aging Society: A Roundtable

Led by: Prof. Nancy Morrow-Howell and Natalie Galucia, Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging, Washington University in St. Louis

This roundtable discussion will center on issues of population aging. It will offer an opportunity to share our interests and current work for the purpose of learning from each other and exploring new partnerships and resources.