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Reflections on Innovation: The TMRU Story

Reflections on Innovation: The TMRU Story

This is the first in the UWI Museum’s Innovators and Inventors Series which showcases, collects (through objects, photographs and audiovisual material) and records the work of scholars and activists who have shaped the research agenda and output of the UWI.

Today we explore the work of the Tropical Metabolism Research Unit which was established under the auspices of the Sir John Waterlow, a physiologist, who came to the region after World War II to conduct research on child mortality among children five years and younger. In an effort to mobilize a systematic approach to research on the child mortality crisis, Sir Waterlow lobbied the United Kingdom Medical Research Council and the Jamaican Colonial Government to provide support for the development of the TMRU. His early research confirmed that children in the region were suffering from kwashiorkor – a severe form of malnutrition. The new unit included a ward to treat children suffering from malnutrition and labs to conduct research.
Why is this important? Infant and child malnutrition and mortality was an extremely serious and pervasive social and public health problem in the colonial Caribbean. In 1920/21, the infant mortality rate for Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, Guyana and Antigua was estimated at 172.5, 174.93, 270, 148 and 233.34 per 1000 reported live births respectively. Compiled from various colonial reports by Historian Juanita De Barros, these numbers could increase in response to disease epidemics (such as the influenza epidemic of 1918), and economic pressures such as food restrictions during the Second World War.
In its nascent years, expatriate and Caribbean born researchers took a hands on approach to their work by equipment in-house to facilitate testing and investigation. By the early 1970s, the Unit in partnership with the Jamaican Ministry of Health reduced child malnutrition from 25% to 5% per 1000. Under Professor David Picou’s leadership an innovative phased base procedure for the treatment of malnutrition (developed in the unit) was implemented throughout the Caribbean and later the World Health Organization.
Today the TMRU is one of four units of the Caribbean Institute for Health Research (CAIHR). The work of CAIHR focuses on nutrition, child development, and chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular and sickle cell disease. A significant element in their work is community based engagement to educate the public on the relationship between nutrition, child development and parenting outcomes. The other units include the Epidemiological Research Unit (ERU) the Sickle Cell Unit and the George Alleyne Chronic Diseases Research Centre.
Join us on Thursday September 19, 2019 at 2 pm in the museum for “Reflections on Innovations: The TMRU Story” as we speak to members of the early research team. Our panelists include Chancellor Emeritus Sir George Alleyne, Professor Emeritus David Picou and Professor Emeritus Ann Ashworth-Hill. Their research in the first two decades of the unit positively affected regional and international approaches to treating child malnutrition.


  • Innovators and Inventors
  • Making Connections
  • Special Focus


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