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Center for Human Nutrition

Laura Murray-Kolb, PhD, MS
Establishing the Connection Between Nutrition and Health

Dr. Murray-KolbGrowing up, Laura Murray-Kolb, PhD, MS, always wanted to be a surgeon and eventually became a dedicated pre-med undergrad. But Murray-Kolb also believed nutrition was vital to good health and needed to be understood completely in order to properly undertake patient medical care. So she decided to earn a master's degree in nutrition before attending medical school. Needless to say, Murray-Kolb fell in love with the field of nutrition and has remained with the discipline ever since. What especially drew her into nutrition as a career was her work in micronutrient deficiencies: "I realized the magnitude of the problem worldwide. It hit me hard because of the sheer number of kids dying from it. Iron deficiency is an issue so great that it compelled me to do something about it."

In 2003, Murray-Kolb earned her PhD at Penn State University. Her work focused on iron status, specifically its effect on the cognitive ability of women of reproductive age and how a deficiency could have an impact on the women's babies. "Because I wanted to get a further handle on mother-child interaction, I completed a postdoctoral fellowship in psychology and childhood development through an National Institutes of Health training grant," says Murray-Kolb. "My goal is to understand how nutrition affects behavior, and to do that one needs to comprehend the relationship between psychology and development."

One of the major research studies Murray-Kolb has played a part in assessed the impact of maternal iron deficiency on mother-infant interaction and infants' development in Khayelitsha, a peri-urban South African community located 40 km east of Cape Town. "We followed women and their infants from 10 weeks to 9 months postpartum and assessed them on six mother/child interaction scales. Results showed that iron deficiency was associated with decreased sensitivity by the mothers and less responsiveness to maternal cues by the infants. The iron supplementation was demonstrated to be protective against these negative effects."

In January 2007, Murray-Kolb joined the Department of International Health's Human Nutrition track as an assistant professor. "Within the fields of nutrition and international health research, the Bloomberg School has consistently been at the forefront, particularly in the area of micronutrient deficiencies," says Murray-Kolb. "A major draw for me is how the majority of studies inform public policy — policy has actually been changed as a result of the nutrition research. Our work is not just intended for publication in science journals. The faculty and students in the program truly make a difference, and that is what I want to do."

Murray-Kolb's current project, "Antenatal and Preschool Iron and Zinc Supplementation and Cognition" takes place over a three-year period in Nepal. She will act as a co-investigator with fellow Center for Human Nutrition faculty Parul Christian, DrPH (principal investigator of the project) and Keith West, DrPH, MPH. The project follows up with children 6-8 years of age whose mothers received micronutrient supplements during their pregnancies. The researchers will study how the supplementation and nutrient status affected the children's behavior and cognitive and motor development. Murray-Kolb recruited and trained psychology students from Nepal to do cognitive testing, quality control and data analysis for the study. 

For more information about Laura Murray-Kolb, visit her web page.

(June 2007)