FSI Rosenkranz Prize winners focus on child and maternal health

More than 800 women worldwide die from pregnancy-related causes every day, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia. The two regions also experience the highest levels of stunting among young children, a form of malnutrition associated with poor health and cognitive development for the remainder of their lives.

Ivana Marić
Ivana Marić

This year’s Rosenkranz Prize winners are working to better understand these severe medical maladies and eventually find interventions to help women to survive their pregnancies and children to live healthier lives.

The Rosenkranz Prize, given by the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) and Stanford Health Policy, goes to Stanford researchers in any discipline who are investigating innovative ways to improve health care and policy in developing nations.

IVANA MARIĆ, a research scientist at the Stanford Prematurity Research Center, will use machine learning to analyze metabolites in maternal blood from women in Zimbabwe, Kenya and Bangladesh, with the goal of eventually developing a simple blood test that could predict preeclampsia, one of the leading causes of maternal death in these countries.

“This could make a difference between life and death for both the mom and the baby,” she said.

Stunting, the most prevalent form of malnutrition in children under age 5, impacts more than 150 million children worldwide. The condition renders those children more susceptible to infectious diseases and deficits in cognitive development.

JESSICA GREMBI, a postdoctoral researcher in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Geographic Medicine, will use the $100,000 prize money awarded to each Rosenkranz Prize winner to study T cell activation by the gut microbiome. She believes antigens from commensal microbiota can overstimulate immune system T cells and lead to chronic inflammation.

Jessica Grembi
Jessica Grembi

“When a child is malnourished, we see that their guts are more permeable, and that permeability can allow extensive contact between commensal microbiota and the immune system,” said Grembi, a former environmental engineer and company commander in the U.S. Army who worked on potable water and wastewater systems on military bases in Europe and was deployed twice to Iraq.

“Both Ivana and Jess epitomize the legacy of Dr. George Rosenkranz. They each bring outstanding technical skill to bear, very creatively, on enormously important issues in global health,” said GRANT MILLER, a professor of medicine at Stanford Health Policy and chair of the committee that selects the winners.

The award is named after George Rosenkranz, a chemist who first synthesized cortisone in 1951, and later progestin, the active ingredient in oral birth control pills. His family created the Rosenkranz Prize in 2009 with an award that embodies Rosenkranz’s belief that young scientists hold the curiosity and drive necessary to find alternative solutions to longstanding health care dilemmas.

Read the full story on the Freeman Spogli Institute website.