Building Caribbean Research Capacity in Vector-borne Disease Related Neurodevelopment

There is preliminary evidence of a link between infection with chikungunya – a virus that is spread by mosquitos in tropical regions – and impaired cognitive functioning among infants born to mothers infected with the virus. This could significantly impact the neurodevelopment of millions of children in developing regions worldwide, complicating efforts to reduce inequality and promote sustainable development.

To test this preliminary evidence while building Vector Borne Diseases research capacity in tropical LMICs where these diseases are endemic and the burden of impaired neurodevelopment is most felt, researchers from St. George’s University (SGU) in Grenada partnered with researchers from Stanford University to:

(1) Determine the prevalence of mother to child transmission of CHIKV in Grenadian pregnant mothers;

(2) Measure the neurodevelopment of children at 2 years of age exposed at different trimesters in utero to CHIKV and compare them with unexposed children;

(3) Assess the burden of confounding factors to better understand the specific impact of VBD on neurodevelopment and inform public health priorities; and

(4) Build local capacity for arboviral and neurodevelopmental testing at SGU.

This study enrolled moms and their infants who were born during the CHIKV outbreak in Grenada, moms and their infants who were born after the outbreak and may have been exposed to the virus in utero, and moms and their infants who were born at least nine months after the outbreak (and thus, very unlikely to be exposed to the virus in utero). All mother-child pairs completed a survey detailing the onset and symptoms related to their CHIKV infection and were tested for exposure to CHIKV by ELISA. Non CHIKV-exposed infants and moms were used as controls for neurocognitive comparison at 2-years of age.

We administered the intergrowth 21st Neurodevelopment Assessment – a holistic assessment of early child development developed at Oxford University – while controlling for confounding neurodevelopmental factors.

We established a Regional Center for Child Neurodevelopment while addressing seven key areas of needed research support: (1) Financial (i.e., granting); (2) Expertise; (3) On-the-ground human resources; (4) Student trainees to build local capacity; (5) Equipment, IT, and facilities support; (6) On-the-ground university and research institute administrative support; and (7) Local and regional government, relevant NGO, and professional/academic institutional support.

Funding provided by the NIH R21 TW010536. 9/2016 – 12/2018.

Desiree LaBeaud and Randall Waechter, Co-PI’s

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