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.

TMRU researchers.png


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.

TMRU baby.pngWhy 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.

TMRU one.pngIn 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.



  1. You Captcha is not working. I gave up after roughly eight attempts I only wanted to send a comment that I really enjoyed this latest mail out and hope you will give more to reflect the early work of UCWI/UWI Hope this email gets through and that your WordPress arrangements are sorted out Best Marlene Hamilton

    Sent from my iPhone



    • Dear Marlene,
      We will follow up to see what the issue is. Thank you for your comments, the goal of the series is to focus on the research of the University and is a way of making this work more accessible to the community.


  2. I am disappointed that UWI does not have full historical records to really show the excellence achieved in the first 23 years of existence and use this as the standard. Current generation comfortable with ranking without realizing we are slipping for various reasons and we still have to climb back to where we were, no time to be complacent so keep advertising accomplishments in first 50 years. The first staff who got us to win this marvellous


    • Thank you for you comment. The goal of this series is to make this information accessible to the UWI community and Alum and honour those who have done amazing work for the university and transformed the Caribbean landscape.


  3. It was a great honour, and a very pleasurable one, to participate in the UWI Museum’s Innovators and Inventors Series held recently at the Museum, Professor John Waterlow, the First Director of the TMRU received many honours including the order of St Michael and St George. However he is not addressed as Sir John or Sir Waterlow. Congratulations and keep up the good work.


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