An exciting change of pace: PUFA

Although I came to Malawi with the goal of working on two studies (the ethnographic study I’ve been posting about and the PUFA therapeutic food study), the process on the ethnographic study has been slowed as we continue to wait on ethics board approval here. Simultaneously, the PUFA study has moved ahead and received ethical approval in Malawi! Working in Africa can be unpredictable, so I am just thrilled that one of Prof Ickes’ and my projects can get off the ground.

The PUFA study is testing a new formula for ready-to-use therapeutic food to treat severe acute malnutrition (SAM). The clinics I work in treat hundreds of SAM kids every week, and the standard of care is Chiponde, a peanut and soy based paste. My research advisor, Professor Ickes, has worked with PPB’s Dr. Manary to develop a new formula for the treatment food. The new food, which I will call “PUFA food”, is made with flax flour and flaxseed oil, which are higher in omega-3 fatty acids. These FAs are important to cognitive development, which could in turn benefit the children’s brain growth as well as their physical health.

This is a very important study, and the first step of carrying it out is conducting an acceptability trial, which I will be doing here in Malawi. An acceptability trial is conducted to see if the children will like and eat the PUFA food. This is important because the children must want to eat the food in order for it to be an effective treatment method for SAM.

I have spent the past couple of weeks developing a study plan, writing forms and likeability surveys, and getting the forms translated so that the local community health workers (HSAs) can assist us with the surveys on site. I met with all of our nurses and drivers today to discuss the study with them!

More specifics on the study in my next post!


  1. klwessman says:

    Wow! This is SO cool. It makes me really happy that a W&M professor and students are carrying out research like this that will directly benefit the SAM children in Africa. I bet it is an incredibly moving and rewarding experience to be out in the field conducting the research, to be able to see the benefits of your research with your very own eyes. I am looking forward to following your research. Good luck with the forms’ translations and acceptability trials.

  2. Sounds like a very interesting trial. I have read a lot of information about flaxseed but the one thing lacking is any actually proven medical research, case studies or findings that Omega 3, Flax etc actually do help with increased brain activity. I had never heard of an acceptability trial so that was interesting. I have bookmarked your page to come back for updates. Great information and thanks