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Getting the Simple things Right: Innovation at the TMRU

Getting the Simple things Right: Innovation at the TMRU

On Thursday, Sept 19, 2019, the museum hosted Reflections on Innovations: the TMRU Story. Our panelists Prof. Em. Ann Ashworth, Prof. Em. David Picou and Prof. Em. Michael Golden shared their early experiences in the unit and the impact it had on their professional lives.
From left to right: Dr. Shani Roper (Curator), Prof. Em. Michael Golden, Prof. Em. Ann Ashworth & Prof. Em. David Picou
Recruited by Dr. John Waterloo, Professor Emeritus David Picou joined the unit in 1959 as a pediatrician and in 1970 became the first West Indian to head the TMRU. It was during his tenure that the unit completed the manual “Malnutrition & Gastroenteritis in Children: A manual for hospital treatment and management” which was the culmination of several years of research that emerged in response to deaths among severely malnourished children admitted to the ward. Early team members looked for answers because, as Picou lamented, the current practice failed to bring results and they had to find answers to the problem. Systematic research into areas such as protein synthesis and metabolic rates eventually led to a phased based introduction of food along with nutrition supplements to severely malnourished children. Their findings challenged basic assumptions on how to treat severely and moderately malnourished children. The World Health Organization later adapted the TMRU Manual in the late 70s as the foundation of its global approach to child malnutrition.
Dr. John Waterlow’s Micro Balance
In an effort to do ground breaking research, early researchers at the TMRU made their tools by hand. Researchers had access to a glass blower in the Chemistry department and a machine lathe was located on the TMRU Ward. Examples of early tools include Dr. John Waterlow’s Micro Balance (1950s) and Dr. John Garrow’s Micro Balance (1950s).
Dr. John Garrow’s Micro Balance
Dr. David Picou
Another important tool in TMRU’s Collection includes the Associated Electrical Industries Mass Spectrometer model MS 3 which Dr. Picou maintained for majority of the time it was in use. He later trained Dr. Alan Johnson to maintain the instrument. When Picou arrived at TMRU in 1959, the MS 3 was a cutting edge equipment that no one knew how to use. Dr. Garrow sent Picou to Birmingham for a year to learn how to use and care for the AEI MS 3. See his account below:

The work of the TMRU has had a significant regional and global impact. Through close attention to detail and a commitment to treating the entire child (body, mind and emotions), the unit’s intervention in the field of child malnutrition changed treatment practices in Jamaica and the Caribbean. By 1978, there were no deaths from severe malnutrition on the TMRU ward and  their research helped to improve health care delivery in hospitals through capacity building among nurses and doctors in rural Jamaica. The TMRU closed the ward in 2017 because there were no patients to treat. Former colleagues who now form a part of the TMRU alum continue to do innovative research in not only new forms of child malnutrition but in other significant public health conditions. 


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