While Professor Alauddin was away in Bangladesh this summer for his Fulbright assignment, he left his lab in the capable hands of Sandra Minchala ’15, a recent chemistry graduate. (She is seen in the photo above with Professor Alauddin, during a study trip in Bangladesh.)
Alauddin is a partner in a research initiative, WASH (Water, Sanitation, Hygiene) Benefits, centered at the University of California, Berkeley, and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Its purpose is to improve the health and development of children in poor, rural areas of the world.
Environmental enteropathy — i.e., intestinal disease — is a widespread problem in the developing world. Its victims cannot absorb nutrients properly, causing a vicious cycle of deteriorating health. Seventeen thousand children under the age of 5 die every day, and in one-third of those cases, undernutrition is the cause of death.
The Alauddin lab is testing thousands of urine samples from children in rural Kenya and Bangladesh to measure the extent of the problem. So far, Minchala says, all of the samples reveal the presence of the disease.
The next step in the WASH Benefits project will be to test variables like access to clean water, handwashing practices, and nutrition, and find out which interventions provide the biggest health benefits.
“I’m very humbled to be working on these projects,” says Minchala, whose goal is to follow in Alauddin’s footsteps of using chemistry to solve public health problems. “I can’t wait to start on my own projects, like Dr. Alauddin. I will do whatever I can to help from the chemical aspect. It gives me more drive to finish my Ph.D. and do what I have to do.”