New Delhi: Developing methods to identify mothers at risk of premature births, finding out which children are likely to face stunting, and nutritional and environmental interventions to prevent stunting—these are some of the projects that were awarded grants on Tuesday under the ‘All Children Thriving’ Grand Challenges programme.

The programme, a collaborative effort by the Department of Biotechnology and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, offers seed grants of $500,000 for two years and full grants of $2.5 million for up to four years.

This year Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council awarded a full grant to one project and seed grants to six projects. The third Grand Challenges grant programme in partnership with USAID was launched in October 2014 in the US.

Nita Bhandari, director of the New Delhi-based Centre for Health Research and Development in Society for Applied Studies, was awarded a full grant for her project to improve linear growth of children in low-income settings through household supported interventions using nutritional environment and care in pregnancy and early childhood.

Bhandari is a public health researcher specialising in community based research related to child health and nutrition with special focus on nutritional intervention trials to reduce childhood morbidity and mortality, nutrition-infection interaction, and vaccine trials to prevent childhood infectious diseases.

The six seeds grantees had proposed projects ranging from genomics, agricultural interventions and counting certain blood cells to improve maternal and neo natal health.“Given that today in neonatal health, preterm and intrauterine growth restricted births are a major problem, what we have decided to take on in this study is to identify all the biological correlations and causalities regarding why preterm births take place. And that way we can develop interventions to prevent preterm births," said Arindam Maitra, associate professor, National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, Kalyani, West Bengal.

Maitra will be collaborating with Faridabad-based Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI) to conduct a study on a cohort of 8,000 women to investigate if stress causes pre-term births and which mothers are at risk of pre-term delivery due to stress.

Another group of scientists will test a new approach to investigate stunting in Indian children and which children are vulnerable.

“One of the issues we have in India is incidence rate of stunting is higher here than in parts of the world which are considered less developed like sub Saharan Africa. One of the hypothesis we have is that there is early inflammation in the intestine of the Indian kids, possibly because of excessive colonization of microbes that happens when children are exposed to many microbes when they are born," said Uma Chandra Mouli Natchu, assistant professor at THSTI in Faridabad.

“In another study that we are doing, we have seen the neutrophil count (which are cells in blood that immediately respond to infections and try to control them), in children of 6 weeks of age is low in India," he added.

The neutrophil count, he explained, could be an indicator of inflamed intestines in kids that are not able to absorb nutrients as well as in kids with normal intestines.

“So at 6 weeks of age, a neutrophil count can be done, costs 50 bucks to predict which kids will grow well and which won’t," said the scientist.