Robert Chen

Program: Computational and Systems Biology

Current advisor: Jeffrey I. Gordon, MD

Undergraduate university: University of California – Berkeley

Research summary
Affecting more than 795 million children under the age of 5, childhood undernutrition is one of the greatest impediments to the flourishing of humankind. Current dietary interventions fail to ameliorate many of the long-term sequelae of undernutrition, including linear growth-faltering (‘stunting’) and abnormal central nervous system (CNS) development. This failure suggests that our understanding of the biological state of undernutrition is incomplete, and that traditional food therapies fail to target key drivers of undernutrition-dependent pathologies that manifest later in life. Work from our lab has provided the first evidence that impaired development of the gut microbiota plays a causal role in stunting. Thus, a multi-dimensional view of childhood undernutrition that considers several axes of biological state may be required to move the needle on stunting and abnormal CNS development seen in undernourished children. My thesis focuses on the following question: What are the microbial contributions toward abnormal immune function, metabolic regulation, and neurodevelopment during the first two years of life in undernourished children, a critical period when these physiological systems are developing in coordination with a dynamically configuring microbiome? Leveraging multi-dimensional data integration strategies to gain insights from human clinical studies and testing hypotheses in gnotobiotic mice harboring microbial communities from healthy or undernourished children, we have identified key upper-intestinal organisms that play a causal role in stunting and its associated long-term sequelae.

Graduate publications
Chen RY, Ahmed T, Gordon JI. 2022 A Microbiota-Directed Food Intervention for Undernourished Children. N Engl J Med, 386(15):1484.

Chen RY, Mostafa I, Hibberd MC, Das S, Lynn HM, Webber DM, Mahfuz M, Barratt MJ, Ahmed T, Gordon JI. 2021 Melding microbiome and nutritional science with early child development. Nat Med, 27(9):1503-1506.

Chen RY, Mostafa I, Hibberd MC, Das S, Mahfuz M, Naila NN, Islam MM, Huq S, Alam MA, Zaman MU, Raman AS, Webber D, Zhou C, Sundaresan V, Ahsan K, Meier MF, Barratt MJ, Ahmed T, Gordon JI. 2021 A Microbiota-Directed Food Intervention for Undernourished Children. N Engl J Med, 384(16):1517-28.

Delannoy-Bruno O, Desai C, Raman AS, Chen RY, Hibberd MC, Cheng J, Han N, Castillo JJ, Couture G, Lebrilla CB, Barve RA, Lombard V, Henrissat B, Leyn SA, Rodionov DA, Osterman AL, Hayashi DK, Meynier A, Vinoy S, Kirbach K, Wilmot T, Heath AC, Klein S, Barratt MJ, Gordon JI. 2021 Evaluating microbiome-directed fibre snacks in gnotobiotic mice and humans. Nature, ():Online ahead of print.

Chen RY, Kung VL, Das S, Hossain MS, Hibberd MC, Guruge J, Mahfuz M, Begum SMKN, Rahman MM, Fahim SM, Gazi MA, Haque R, Sarker SA, Mazumder RN, Di Luccia B, Ahsan K, Kennedy E, Santiago-Borges J, Rodionov DA, Leyn SA, Osterman AL, Barratt MJ, Ahmed T, Gordon JI. 2020 Duodenal Microbiota in Stunted Undernourished Children with Enteropathy. N Engl J Med, 383(4):321-33.