Published: 5th July 2005
SCIENTISTS at Manchester Metropolitan University have begun ground-breaking research to combat an alarming rise in brain damage in children living in the world’s most polluted countries.
Biomedical researchers in the city are investigating a link between poor diet in young children and neurological damage caused by polluted air and water and poisonous consumer products.
If a link is proven, a simple course of supplements could prevent irreversible brain damage in thousands of children in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe and prevent many more from suffering reduced IQs.
Pakistan, where the study will begin, has the worst lead pollution in the world, with 80% of children having levels of lead in their bloodstream that are detrimental to intelligence.
Dr Nessar Ahmed, of MMU’s Department of Biological Sciences, said: “In the same districts, studies show that 65% of children aged 7-60 months have iron deficiency.
“If we can prove that such deficits lead to high levels of metal absorption into the bloodstream, that will be highly significant in terms of preventing growing levels of brain damage associated with polluted environments.”
Dr Ahmed and the MMU team, in partnership with the Dr Panjwani Centre for Molecular Medicine and Drug Research, University of Karachi, will study 200 Pakistani children with differing levels of iron deficiency, testing their blood and hair for lead and manganese.
Hair samples will be flown back to Manchester where they will be tested for metal content at the Faculty of Science and Engineering Analytical Centre, a high-tech facility for identification of trace substances.
Added Dr Ahmed: “We expect our first findings in summer 2006 and if our hypothesis is correct, the results should reinforce the importance of not only reducing lead and manganese pollution, but also the development of national health strategies to cut childhood iron deficiency.”
The study, funded by the Nestle Foundation, is the only UK based research sponsored by the Foundation in 2004/5.
Blood levels of around 10 micrograms of lead can cause IQ levels to fall. One study found the average level of lead in the blood of Karachi children to be 38 micrograms.
Karachi is considered the lead pollution capital of the world, due to a number of factors: the absence of lead-free fuels, heavy industry and use of make-up known as surma. Iron deficiency is common (particularly in young girls) because of poverty and poor diet. Often people rely on local ‘quacks’ who distribute medicines known to contain lead.
The Nestle Foundation-funded scheme is led by Dr Nessar Ahmed, of the Department of Biological Sciences, MMU and Professor Mohammad Ataur Rahman, of the University of Karachi.
For more information, contact Dr Nessar Ahmed on 0161 247 1163 firstname.lastname@example.org or the MMU Press Office on 0161 247 3406