Attending the Bangalore Boston Nutrition Collaborative

BBNC at St. John's Research Institute

By: Jacqueline M. Lauer, PhD, MPH
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Boston Children's Hospital

Last month, I had the distinct honor and privilege to spend two weeks in Bangalore, India attending The Bangalore Boston Nutrition Collaborative (BBNC), which was one of the most memorable experiences of my Nutrition Innovation Lab-supported postdoctoral research training thus far. BBNC was first established in 2009 as a collaboration between St. John's Research Institute (SJRI), Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH), and Tufts University. BBNC is designed as a two-week short-course with a focus on nutrition research and training taught by faculty mentors at SJRI, HSPH and Tufts.

The overall goals are to:

  • Explore the role of nutritional factors and health outcomes, through critical evaluation of the scientific literature and exploration of demographic, epidemiological, biological, social, political, and economic determinants
  • Gain substantive knowledge in topic areas related to public health nutrition research, including clinical nutrition, physiology, biochemistry, and molecular nutrition
  • Enhance methodological skills in areas of nutritional, infectious disease, and chronic disease epidemiology, with emphasis on clinical, research, and laboratory areas
  • Discuss the latest findings from epidemiologic studies on the role of nutrition in the prevention, care, and treatment of health outcomes, and to integrate research findings to inform public health recommendations and program design and implementation, based on current evidence. 

This year at BBNC was extra-special as the course was celebrating its 10th year! While the majority of the roughly 50 participants were from different regions of India, there were also students from Nepal, Sri Lanka, and as far away as Uganda in attendance. The backgrounds and interests of the students were diverse; spanning nutrition, clinical, research, program, policy, and laboratory work, including medical and PhD students, physicians, and allied health professionals. However, all participants shared an unyielding commitment to tackling our greatest nutrition challenges of our time, both within their home countries as well as globally. 

From day one, the learning began! The basic structure of the course was didactic lectures in the morning and practical, hands-on sessions in the afternoon, which ranged from learning how to assess body composition to practicing statistical analysis methods. One highlight of the course was the opportunity to visit several of the labs at SJRI to see first-hand the nutrition research that is being done. Meanwhile, throughout the entire two-weeks, students worked in teams to design innovative nutrition research proposals, which were presented on the last day of class. This year, students explored a range of research topics, including the determinants of catch-up growth in young children and the effect of zinc supplementation on patient outcomes post heart-attack. To date, over 500 students have successfully completed the BBNC course, and the strong alumni network ensures that the relationships built at BBNC don’t end after the two weeks are over. 

In addition to mentoring and lecturing at BBNC, I worked with colleagues at SJRI to help design part of the BBNC course to function as a massive online open course, or MOOC. Our goal in designing online material for BBNC is to reach a wider audience of people who are unable to attend the course in person but are still looking to expand their knowledge of some of the most cutting-edge global nutrition topics. This was my first time both attending BBNC as well as visiting India, and I was immediately made to feel right at home. I’d like to thank all those at SJRI for their incredible hospitality and all the BBNC faulty and students for two-weeks of collaboration and learning. Through all my interactions, I walked away from BBNC feeling both optimistic and inspired; I can honestly say the future of global nutrition research appears very bright!