In Profile: Robert Bandsma

Researcher Robert Bandsma
Professor Robert Bandsma

Malnutrition takes the lives of more than 500,000 children every year, making it one of the most common causes for early childhood deaths. “In order to reduce the burden of malnutrition that affects so many children in every country, global partnerships are essential,” says Professor Robert Bandsma.

Premature birth, chronic illness, cancer, and food insecurity are all factors that may lead to nutritional problems in young children. In turn, childhood malnutrition may lead to chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, later in a person’s life. Bandsma’s research focuses on how malnutrition affects metabolic regulation and predisposes some children to long-term metabolic disease.

“With the knowledge that we obtain we try to find novel interventions, both dietary and pharmacological, that can help malnourished children survive,” says Bandsma. His lab at The Hospital for Sick Children developed a pipeline of treatment design, from cell-based research, to animal models, to clinical trials. This approach to discovery — also known as ‘bench-to-bedside' — allows Bandsma to learn how different treatments affect gut and liver function and health.

Solutions for childhood malnutrition could be applied to other patient groups, including children with severe failure to thrive, short bowel syndrome, and chemotherapy-related gut inflammation in children with cancer.

Another critical aspect in his work is reducing the long-term health effects of early age malnutrition and obesity. “In the past, obesity was a condition prevalent in adults only. Today, unfortunately, we see severely obese children as young as three years old,” says Bandsma.

“Obesity is becoming more prevalent in developing countries as well, where we currently see people who suffered from malnutrition childhood and obesity later in life. We don’t know how these nutritional changes affect health in the long term.” He hopes that partnering with other researchers at the Lawson Centre will lead to a better understanding of these issues.

With over eight years of research experience in global child health and nutrition, Bandsma says that partnering with government agencies, the private sector, educators, and advocates will help find comprehensive answers to the problems of malnutrition in childhood.

It’s the opportunity to make real impact for people and children around the world that drives Bandsma’s research. “The creativity involved in trying to find solutions in global child health is endless. Even with very limited resources we can achieve huge clinical impacts. As scientists, we should remind ourselves that we aim to advance our knowledge but also find areas to make a significant, practical difference in people’s lives.”