More than a decade ago, Mark Manary, MD, Washington University’s Helene B. Roberson Professor of Pediatrics, became a key player in introducing a simple but revolutionary peanut butter-based therapeutic food to battle severe malnutrition, an affliction that contributes to the death of 1 million children each year. This ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) proved to be a lifesaver, with recovery rates at 85 to 90 percent. RUTF is now used to treat malnourished children throughout the world, including sub-Saharan Africa’s Malawi, the epicenter of Manary’s research and intervention.
Despite his successes — chief among them, he started “Project Peanut Butter,” which serves hundreds of thousands of malnourished children — Manary isn’t content. He wants to erase malnutrition, so he continues to treat it, and he continues to study it. Recent research from Manary and Washington University colleague Indi Trehan, MD, shows that severely malnourished children are far more likely to recover and survive when given antibiotics along with RUTF than children who are simply treated with the therapeutic food alone. Their findings are expected to change the approach to severe malnutrition.
“It doesn’t involve complicated medical procedures to go after the biggest killer of children in the world — something that kills more kids than malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis — to reduce that death rate among those kids,” Manary says. “That’s what is so important about this. The practical implications are huge.”