U Med Student to Investigate High Rate of Anemia Among Hispanic Babies

U Med Student to Investigate High Rate of Anemia Among Hispanic Babies

Jun 12, 2003 6:00 PM

A high incidence of anemia among babies born in the United States to mothers of Mexican or South American origin will be investigated by a University of Utah medical student in a research funded by the National Medical Fellowships.

Miguel Knochel, a third-year student at the U School of Medicine, has been chosen as a 2003 Bristol-Myers Squibb Academic Medicine Fellow. He was one of 35 minority students granted the fellowships in May.

Knochels work at the South Main Clinic in Salt Lake City led him to the research proposal that won him the fellowship. He was struck by the fact that 25 percent of all infants who visit the clinic--six times more than the national average--showed symptoms of anemia. Babies who go to South Main Clinic for routine checkup come from low-income families. Most of them were born in the United States, but their mothers are foreign-born, many of them from Mexico or South America.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, as many as 20 percent of children in the United States and up to 80 percent of children in developing countries will be anemic at some point by the age of 18. Typical causes of anemia in children include a diet deficient in iron, introduction of cows milk before the babys first birthday, or lead ingestion.

However, Knochel would like to investigate other factors. "I want to find out if the cause of this higher incidence of anemia is something that occurs during pregnancy, and if its culturally based," he said. For example, Knochel wants to find out if the mothers take lead-containing herbal remedies, or if they suffer from a general lack of nutrition. "If this is the case, then I hope my study will help doctors come up with prenatal strategies," he added. A previous study conducted at the clinic compared obstetrical records of mothers of anemic babies with those whose infants were not anemic. Knochels research will take a prospective approach by getting information from pregnant mothers and then studying the outcome, specifically if their babies will develop anemia or not.

Knochel said even when anemic infants get iron supplements they are likely to suffer long-term damage in their cognitive and motor skills. That is why he thinks it is important to help the mothers during the prenatal stage. The subject matter holds a natural attraction for Knochel, who plans to become a pediatrician and who happens to have a 14-month old daughter. His father is from Denver and his mother is from Tampico, Mexico.

Although Knochels study will focus on pregnant mothers and infants from the Salt Lake City area, Knochel said findings could be applied to other urban areas with similar demographics. He will receive $6,000 to conduct the study for eight weeks, beginning July. Karen F. Buchi, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at the U medical school, is Knochels co-investigator. The study will be conducted under the guidance of Carrie L. Byington, M.D., associate professor in the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Geographic Medicine, who encouraged Knochel to develop the research proposal.

The Bristol-Myers Squibb Fellowship Program in Academic Medicine helps outstanding minority medical students to pursue biomedical research and academic medicine. It also aims to foster relationships between students and prominent biomedical scientists.

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