Dr. Sara Atkinson

Current Mentees

Dr. Juliet O. Awori, MBChB

Past Mentees


I am a Senior Lecturer and Honorary Consultant in Paediatric Infectious Disease in the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Oxford and at the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme (KWTRP) in Kilifi, Kenya. I received my medical degree from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Medical School in London and completed clinical training in London, Newcastle and Oxford. My PhD was based at LSHTM and MRC, The Gambia. I first came to KWTRP as a Clinical Research Fellow in 2004 before being appointed as a Clinical Lecturer in Paediatrics at the University of Oxford in 2007. I have been based at KWTRP since 2013.


Both infectious diseases and micronutrient deficiencies are widespread among children living in sub-Saharan Africa. My research questions concern the impact that infections and nutrient deficiencies have on each other. For example: could malaria and other infections be a causal factor in the widespread prevalence of iron deficiency in African children? We found that iron deficiency increases markedly over a malaria season. The hormone hepcidin, the master iron regulator, prevents iron absorption and recycling leading to low iron levels. We found that even asymptomatic malaria infection strongly induces hepcidin in Kenyan children. We are using genetic and epidemiological methods to investigate the impact of malaria on iron deficiency. It is possible that elimination of malaria may also prevent an important cause of iron deficiency for children living in sub-Saharan Africa.

The safety of iron supplementation is an important concern as studies suggest that iron deficiency protects children from malaria and other infections. I am using a Mendelian randomization (MR) approach to address the question of whether a child’s iron status is causally related to their risk of severe malaria and/or bacteraemia. MR is an approach that utilizes the random allocation of genetic variants at conception to investigate causality between an intermediate trait (iron status) and disease (severe infection). In order to identify genetic variants for use in MR, I am conducting the first GWAS study of iron status (including hepcidin) in African populations. Validated genetic variants will be taken forward to large MR case-control studies of severe malaria and bacteraemia using stored samples from the Kilifi Biobank and the MalariaGEN Consortium.