$742K to Test Breast Milk Composition Globally Using Samples of Infant Feces

October 22, 2013 - 4:10 PM


New mother Qi Wenjuan breastfeeds her 1-day-old son at Tiantan Hospital's maternity ward in Beijing, China. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

(CNSNews.com) – The National Science Foundation has awarded $742,000 to Washington State University to test differences in breast milk around the world using breast milk and “infant fecal samples.”

“It is well-known that breastfeeding protects infants from illness, especially in the poorest regions of the world. The full nature of this protective effect, however, is less well understood,” the grant award abstract said.

“A major barrier to understanding is the fact that almost nothing is known about the factors that influence the considerable variation in milk composition around the globe, or about the effects of this variation on infant health,” it added.

“The researchers predict that what is considered ‘normal’ milk composition in one population may not support optimal health in another. This information is crucial to the humanitarian quest to understand how infant nutrition and overall health can be improved around the world,” the abstract said.

A team of scientists will use “biological data” from breastfeeding mothers and their babies in both developed countries like the U.S., Spain, and Sweden as well as developing countries like Central African Republic, Gambia, Ghana, Peru, and Kenya.

“To test the possibility of a correlation between milk oligosaccharide composition, milk microbiota, and the gastrointestinal microbiome of infants, milk samples and infant fecal samples will be analyzed using state-of-the-art biochemical and genomic techniques,” the grant abstract said.

The project “represents the first comprehensive investigation of the global differences in human milk composition along with the various microbial, evolutionary, environmental, and sociocultural factors that might influence both milk composition and infant health,” the grant abstract noted.

The project began on Oct. 1, 2013 and is expected to be completed by Sept. 30, 2017.

Calls to Michelle McGuire, principal investigator for the study, were not returned by press time.