• Elango, Rajavel

    Investigator, BC Children's Hospital

    Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics, School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia

    Degrees / Designations
    Primary Area of Research
    Healthy Starts
    Secondary Area(s) of Research
    604-875-2000 ext. 4911
    Lab Phone
    604-875-2000 ext. 4607
    Mailing Address

    BC Children's Hospital Research Institute
    Room 170
    950 West 28th Avenue
    Vancouver, BC  V5Z 4H4

    Affiliate Websites
    Research Areas
    • Nutrient requirements: Protein and amino acid requirements during key stages of growth and development including, pregnancy, childhood and during childhood malnutrition
    • Stable isotopes: Application of stable isotope based methods to determine protein metabolism and amino acid flux in vivo
    • Nutritional Assessment: Using non-invasive techniques including indirect calorimetry, hand-held indirect calorimeter, bioelectrical impedance analysis, handgrip dynamometer and diet analysis software

    The goal of my research program is to identify protein and amino acid (building blocks of protein) requirements during key life stages of growth and development, including pregnancy, childhood and in disease.

    During pregnancy the nutritional state of the mother influences the rapidly growing fetus and affects long-term health. Due to ethical constraints protein requirements during pregnancy is not well studied. With the use of stable isotope tracers, which are completely safe for use in vulnerable populations like pregnant women, my research will measure requirements and trace complex amino acid metabolic pathways in the human body. The focus will be to make dietary protein and amino acid recommendations to improve long-term health for the mother and child.

    Undernutrition or malnutrition has been implicated to be the underlying cause of ~50% of all deaths in children in the developing world. My research will examine the impact of childhood malnutrition on protein and amino acid requirements with collaborations between research institutes located in India and CFRI in Vancouver.

    Current Projects
    Determination of protein and amino acid requirements and protein quality during early and late pregnancy 

    It is important that pregnant women eat an adequate amount and quality of protein to ensure healthy growth and development of the fetus. It is well known that pregnant women need more high quality protein in their diet, but how much additional protein is required remains unclear. There is reason to believe that current Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) recommendations for protein intake in pregnancy are too low. Additionally, progressive metabolic adaptations that occur in a woman’s body throughout pregnancy result in different nutritional requirements during the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd trimesters. To better define protein and amino acid requirements and identify good sources of protein throughout pregnancy, we are studying healthy pregnant women 19-35y, in their 2nd and 3rd trimester of pregnancy using a stable isotope (L-1-13C-Phenylalanine) based technique.

    Determination of the safe upper limit of leucine intake in healthy elderly

    Leucine, a branded-chain amino acid, has been shown to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, and thus has been proposed to prevent age related muscle atrophy (Sarcopenia). Leucine supplementation may have potential benefits in elderly populations.The UL (tolerable upper intake level) for leucine intake in young men has been recently determined. Currently the UL for leucine in healthy elderly is unknown and would be beneficial to conduct future supplementation studies. The UL for leucine is being identified by increasing intakes of leucine and measurements of plasma and urinary biochemcial variables, including a stable isotope protocol of L-1-13C-leucine on all study days to measure changes in leucine oxidation. This study will establish safe limits for leucine supplement consumption in elderly.

    Use of a breath test to examine phenylalanine tolerance in children with Phenylketonuria
    Phenylketonuria (PKU) is an autosomal recessive disorder caused by deficiency of an enzyme in the liver called phenylalanine hydroxylase (PAH). PAH deficiency leads to increased levels of phenylalanine (an amino acid) in plasma. The disease causes mental retardation unless the affected child is maintained on a strict low phenylalanine diet with some drugs that help the PAH enzyme. To better help treatment and measure response, sensitive methods need to be developed. A new stable isotope test is being developed which uses small amounts of 1-13C-Phenylalanine. If the child is responding to treatment, then there will be increased amounts of 13CO2 in the breath, as the 13C-Phenylalanine will be metabolized by the liver and the 13C released in breath as 13CO2. Thus, this simple breath test will help in identifying children who respond to treatment and will help immensely in management of children with PKU.

    Courses Taught

    • FNH 490 Maternal and Fetal Nutrition, Faculty of Land and Food Systems, UBC
    • SPPH 581R Pediatric Nutrition and Public Health, School of Population and Public Health, UBC
    Selected Publications

    Elango R, Ball RO, Pencharz PB. Tolerability of Leucine in Humans, in “Branched Chain Amino Acids in Clinical Nutrition” (2015), Volume 2, Eds. Rajendram R, Preedy VR and Patel VB, Humana Press, pg. 3 – 13. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4939-1914-7.

    Pillai RR, Elango R, Ball RO, Kurpad AV, Pencharz PB. 2015. Lysine requirements of moderately undernourished school-aged indian children are reduced by treatment for intestinal parasites as measured by the indicator amino acid oxidation technique. J Nutr. DOI: 10.3945/jn.114.208439. PMID: 25761501

    Rafii M, Chapman K, Owens J, Elango R, Campbell WW, Ball RO, Pencharz PB, Courtney-Martin G. 2015. Dietary protein requirement of female adults >65 years determined by the indicator amino acid oxidation technique is higher than current recommendations. J Nutr 145(1):18-24. DOI: 10.3945/jn.114.197517. PMID: 25320185 

    Stephens TV, Woo H, Innis SM, Elango R. 2014. Healthy pregnant women in canada are consuming more dietary protein at 16- and 36-week gestation than currently recommended by the dietary reference intakes, primarily from dairy food sources. Nutr Res 34(7):569-76. DOI: 10.1016/j.nutres.2014.07.001. PMID: 25150115

    Stephens TV, Payne M, Ball RO, Pencharz PB, Elango R. 2015. Protein requirements of healthy pregnant women during early and late gestation are higher than current recommendations. J Nutr 145(1):73-8. DOI: 10.3945/jn.114.198622. PMID: 25527661

    Tang M, McCabe GP, Elango R, Pencharz PB, Ball RO, Campbell WW. 2014. Reply to DJ millward. Am J Clin Nutr 100(4):1212-3. PMCID: PMC4163799. DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.114.090324. PMID: 25240088

    Tang M, McCabe GP, Elango R, Pencharz PB, Ball RO, Campbell WW. 2014. Assessment of protein requirement in octogenarian women with use of the indicator amino acid oxidation technique. Am J Clin Nutr 99(4):891-8. PMCID: PMC3953883. DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.112.042325. PMID: 24429540

    FAO Expert Working Group Member, "Research approaches and methods for evaluating the protein quality of human foods - Report of a FAO Expert Working Group.” published March 5th, 2014 (http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4325e.pdf).

    Stephens TV, Payne M, Ball RO, Pencharz PB, Elango R. Protein Requirements of Healthy Pregnant Women during Early and Late Gestation Are Higher than Current Recommendations. J. Nutr. 2014 Sep 24, doi:10.3945/jn.114.198622. PMID: 25527661

    Stephens TV, Woo H, Innis SM, Elango R. Healthy pregnant women in Canada are consuming more dietary protein at 16- and 36-week gestation than currently recommended by the Dietary Reference Intakes, primarily from dairy food sources. Nutr Res. 2014;34(7):569-76. PMID: 25150115

    Tang M, McCabe GP, Elango R, Pencharz PB, Ball RO, and Campbell WW. Assessment of protein requirements in octogenarian women with use of the indicator amino acid oxidation technique. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;99(4):891-8. PMID: 24429540

    Elango R, Ball RO and Pencharz PB. Recent advances in protein and amino acid requirements. Br J Nutr 2012;108:S22-30. PMID: 23107531

    Elango R, Levesque C, Ball RO and Pencharz PB. Available versus digestible amino acids - new stable isotape methods. Br J Nutr 2012;108:S306-14. PMID: 23107543

    Elango R, Chapman K, Rafii M, Ball RO and Pencharz PB. Determination of the tolerable upper limit of leucine intake in young men. Am J Clin Nutr 2012; 96:759-67. PMID: 22952178

    Elango R. Effects of Aging on Protein and Amino Acid Requirements. Amino Acid Research, (ISSN 1882 5001) Vol 5, No.2, 2011: 69-72.

    Elango R, Humayun MA, Ball RO, Pencharz PB. Protein requirement of healthy school-age children determined by the indicator amino acid oxidation method. Am J Clin Nutr 2011 94: 6 1545-1552. PMID: 22049165

    Pillai R, Elango R, Muthayya S, Ball RO, Kurpad AV and Pencharz PB. Lysine requirement of healthy, school-aged Indian children determined by the indicator amino acid oxidation technique. Journal of Nutrition 2010; 140: 54-59. PMID: 19923398

    Elango R, Humayun MA, Ball RO and Pencharz PB. Evidence that protein requirements have been significantly underestimated. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care 2010; 13: 52-57. PMID: 19841581

    Elango R, Humayun MA, Ball RO and Pencharz PB. Indicator amino acid oxidation is not affected by period of adaptation to a wide range of lysine intake in healthy young men. Journal of Nutrition 2009; 139: 1082-1087. PMID: 19369367

    Elango R, Ball RO and Pencharz PB. Amino acid requirements in humans: with a special emphasis on metabolic availability of amino acids. Amino Acids 2009; 37: 19-27. PMID: 19156481

    Elango R, Ball RO and Pencharz PB. Indicator amino acid oxidation: concept and application. Journal of Nutrition 2008;138:243-246. PMID: 18203885

    Cynober L, Bier DM, Kadowaki M, Morris SM Jr, Elango R, Smriga M. Proposals for Upper Limits of Safe Intake for Arginine and Tryptophan in Young Adults and an Upper Limit of Safe Intake for Leucine in the Elderly. J Nutr. 2016 Dec. PMID:27934658 

    Elango R, Rasmussen B, Madden K. Safety and Tolerability of Leucine Supplementation in Elderly Men.J Nutr. 2016 Dec PMID:27934655

    Turki A, Ueda K, Cheng B, Giezen A, Salvarinova R, Stockler-Ipsiroglu S, Elango R. The Indicator Amino Acid Oxidation Method with the Use of l-[1-13C]Leucine Suggests a Higher than Currently Recommended Protein Requirement in Children with Phenylketonuria. J Nutr. 2017 Feb. PMID: 28053173  

    Elango R, Laviano A.  Protein and amino acids: key players in modulating health and diseaseCurr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2017 Jan;20(1):69-70. PubMed PMID: 27801686.


    Honours & Awards

    Award from International Council on Amino Acid Science, 2014

    Vernon R. Young International Award for Amino Acid Research from the American Society for Nutrition, 2013

    CFRI Establishment Award, BC Children's & Women's Hospital, 2010

    Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Clinician-Scientist Training Fellowship, The Hospital for Sick Children and University of Toronto, 2004 – March 2008.

    Nestle Nutrition Graduate Student Award, Student Oral Competition, Canadian Federation of Biological Societies, Ottawa, June 2001.

    Research Group Members
    • Betina Rasmussen, Research Coordinator
    • Gayathri Murthy, Research Dietician
    • Erin Gilbert, Research Technician
    • Leah Cooper, Graduate Student
    • Abrar Turki, Graduate Student