Thiamine deficiency is rampant among the patients we care for at Lao Friends Hospital for Children, especially among our poorest and most rural children. We see children with severe thiamine deficiency — known as beriberi — on an almost daily basis in children only a few months old.
Without quick treatment, most of these children would die. We often hear sad stories about how a mother has lost several babies in the past with similar symptoms — almost surely beriberi. Beyond these children with very severe disease, nearly every infant has some degree of thiamine deficiency that hasn’t yet become so severe as to risk their life.
Indeed, if there were one single disease that were to define our hospital, it would be beriberi. By caring for hundreds of children per year with a disease that is found throughout rural populations in Asia and Africa, LFHC has the opportunity to become a center of excellence for patient care, education, and research into beriberi and more milder forms of thiamine deficiency. We are thus proud to have partnered with colleagues at the Institute for Global Nutrition at the University of California, Davis and the Lao Tropical and Public Health Institute, to undertake what may be the world’s most comprehensive study into the physiology and pathology of thiamine deficiency in infants. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a large team of researchers has joined LFHC to enroll nearly 700 hospitalized children over the course of the next year who have illnesses consistent with severe thiamine deficiency.
We are very excited to take part in this work — the hospital’s first large research study. As a tertiary-care teaching hospital, we feel obligated to help advance the state of knowledge by conducting research studies into diseases that affect children near and far.
The training that our staff will receive as part of the study will also help develop them into independent investigators in the future, helping empower them in yet another way to be the best pediatric care providers in the country.
More information on the study is available at the project web site: https://picn.ucdavis.edu/research/research_proj/lao-thiamine-study