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King's academic in the running for share of £1 million science prize

Dr Paul Taylor’s project will work to combat the childhood obesity crisis in Mexico, where obesity rates are the highest in the world.

Scientists in a lab
Dr Paul Taylor and his team conducting preclinical studies in Mexico.

Dr Paul Taylor and his team conducting preclinical studies in Mexico.

Dr Taylor, Reader in Women’s Health in the Department of Women & Children’s Health, School of Life Course Science, is being recognised for his role in the development of a probiotic derived from a cactus that is helping to fight the obesity epidemic in Mexico.

The shortlisted project, Childhood Obesity – a Mexican solution to a Mexican problem, identifies novel ways to improve the metabolism of obese pregnant women. Obesity during pregnancy is a major risk factor for mothers and can contribute to the development of obesity in babies, and reduced life expectancy in the child.

The recent discovery of the aguamiel probiotic, a bacteria isolated from the sticky sweet sap of the Mexican Agave salmiana cactus, has been vital to the research. Scientists in the UK and Mexico have discovered that administering the probiotic to obese rats improved metabolism during obese pregnancy.

The probiotic, which was administered daily for one month prior to and throughout pregnancy and lactation, prevented many of the negative biochemical and metabolic outcomes observed in the offspring of the obese rats. Scientist hope to assess whether similar results will be achieved once clinical trials begin.

 

Speaking about the prize Dr Taylor said: ‘We are greatly encouraged at being shortlisted for the Newton Prize. The discovery of a novel and natural therapeutic agent, indigenous to Mexico, has been the most exciting of discoveries for us and our Mexican colleagues.

‘The Newton Prize funding will allow us to develop a product to translate the preclinical studies, performed initially in Mexico, to small scale clinical trials in both Mexico and the UK. Successful translation of preclinical studies for the prevention of obesity could have significant impact on the health and expected longevity of the next generation. The aguamiel probiotic may yet prove to be a ‘Mexican solution to a global problem’.’

‘The exchange of skills and knowledge have enriched our own research, established new research networks throughout Latin America and enhanced capacity building particularly for our Mexican partners.’

Dr Taylor is the UK lead on the project with Dr Elena Zambrano, Professor of Reproductive Biology the National Institute of Medical Science and Nutrition in Mexico City.

140 Newton funded projects, fellowships and other awards applied for the prize. Applications came from a range of institutions, including universities and organisations from the UK and abroad. Those selected demonstrated a range of sustainable development goals: from improving health and wellbeing to reducing inequalities, building sustainable cities, and contributing to peace and justice. They also span the Newton Fund’s three pillars of work: the development of people, new research, and translating ideas into innovations.

The prize shines a light on the social and economic challenges faced by the Latin American Newton Partner countries, and how Newton Fund partnerships are helping to solve them. It also incentivises researchers to join the Newton Fund as partners with the UK to address global challenges such as poverty, climate change and public health.