WP 5

Development of more cost effective nutritional and DNA assays

WP leaders: Shah Ebrahim and Sanjay Kinra

The collection of blood samples for monitoring and research is hampered in low-income settings by the invasive nature of the procedure, the high cost of storage and analysis, and the requirement of specialist facilities. There is therefore a need to develop affordable assays for nutritional biomarkers and DNA from samples that are relatively easy and non-invasive to collect, and have scope for scalability at population level.

The team at Public Health Foundation India (PHFI) in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), have successfully developed low-cost nutritional assays using dried blood spot samples on a number of target nutritional biomarkers. They have demonstrated that the analysis of homocysteine, vitamin D and fatty acids could be achieved at low-cost and with low respondent burden in large scale epidemiological studies through collection of dried blood spots (using finger prick) rather than intravenous samples.

Similarly, they have also demonstrated the possibility of carrying out low-cost DNA assays from dried blood spots, saliva samples and vacuum tubes; all collection methods that would be appropriate for large-scale collection in epidemiological studies in low-resource settings.

These exciting results indicate that further genetic and biomarker research is feasible even in low-resource and limited-budget settings.

Use of our novel techniques and future publications

This line of research has already facilitated incorporation of dry blood spots as a choice method for collecting blood samples in surveys by the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (NNMB, NIN) in India. More than 40,000 samples have been collected so far in the last 2-3 years.


Numerous publications are being prepared as a result of this work covering the following topics:

Ø  Biomarker assay development

Ø  DNA extraction methods comparison

Ø  Homocysteine association within family triads

Ø  Relationship between child cardio-metabolic risk factors levels and parent Vitamin D and folate (overall and comparing maternal and paternal levels)

We anticipate further publications to arise from this work as more blood assays and rounds of cohort data collection are completed.