Nutrition researchers earn awards for exploring how vitamin B12 deficiencies affect maternal and child health

Research in the Field lab

Researchers in the Division of Nutritional Sciences received awards for their work at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Science Research Conference on Folic Acid, Vitamin B12 and One-Carbon Metabolism.

The conference brings together the world’s leading scientists to share the latest research on B-vitamins and a specific group of biochemical reactions called one-carbon metabolism. These reactions are an essential part of human physiology and play a role in fetal development, cancer, and other health conditions.

This year, the conference took place virtually from August 17 to 19, and brought together a diverse group of basic scientists, clinical investigators, and public health experts.

First, Julia L. Finkelstein, associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition, won the Best Short Talk Award for her presentation entitled “Vitamin B12 and Maternal and Child Health in Southern India.” Her research focuses on the role of iron, vitamin B12, and folate in the causation of anemia and adverse pregnancy outcomes, with the goal of developing interventions to improve the health of mothers and young children. Her maternal and child nutrition research program includes randomized clinical trials, cohort studies, and surveillance programs in Southern India.

“Vitamin B12 deficiency is an important public health problem in many parts of the world and a significant threat to maternal and child health,” Finkelstein said. “Our findings highlight a substantial burden of vitamin B12 and folate deficiencies in women of reproductive age – preconception and early in pregnancy. These findings are directly informing the development of a randomized efficacy trial for anemia and birth defects prevention in Southern India.”

In addition, three researchers from the laboratory of assistant professor Martha Field, earned Best Poster Awards at the conference. Field studies the interactions between nutrients and genes at the molecular level, focusing on the effects of folate and vitamin B12 on mitochondrial DNA replication and ultimately mitochondrial function. The following researchers from her lab received awards: 

  • Doctoral student Katarina Heyden, for her research on how folate and vitamin B12 interact to influence molecular and cellular outcomes. Her research suggests that  vitamin B12 deficiency may lead to damaged mitochondrial DNA.
  • Postdoctoral Associate Joanna Fiddler for her research focused on understanding how folate deficiencies affect mitochondrial metabolism in chronic myelogenous leukemia cells.
  • Doctoral student Yuwen Xiu for her research on understanding how folate deficiency plays a role in mitochondrial disease.

Further information on this award-winning research and B-vitamins and one-carbon metabolism is available at

Molly Berwald, contributor

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