Boy with his motherTwo of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG) are centered on improving the health of the mother and the child. Based on the 2011 United Nations MDG Report, the total number of child under-five deaths was about 8.1 million in 2009.

Nearly half of all these deaths occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, which continues to have the highest rate of child mortality globally (one in eight children in that region never reach their fifth birthday). Three infectious diseases - diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria - account for more than half of all under-five deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.

Most recent estimates also identify sub-Saharan Africa as the region with the highest incidence of maternal death (640 for every 100,000 live births). Though extensive research in the last 50 years has shown a close relationship between nutritional status and systemic immune responses, we are only beginning to understand the interplay between nutrition, gut mucosal immunity, gut microbiota composition and health. A better understanding of the link between these areas is likely to lead to microbiome-targeted interventions as well as better mucosal vaccines targeting the most relevant pathogens and benefitting both of the mothers and their infants.

MIMI labThe tools to study microbiome-host interactions have only recently been developed, but not yet applied on the necessary scale to interrogate the effects of the mother-infant dyad. In addition, this new field will require a new cadre of broadly trained scientists who will be competent in microbial biology, immunology, nutrition, bioinformatics, statistics, and clinical research.

The MIMI network is designed to bring together top Canadian researchers in each of these fields, working together with the aim of pinpointing key differences in bacterial and immune profiles in the diverse settings of the developing and developed world.