The world’s first breast milk institute has opened in California – where scientists will investigate whether it can be used to treat a range of diseases.
The Human Milk Institute in San Diego will test breast milk as a medicine for chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer.
Decades of research have shown that breast milk strengthens babies’ brains, immune systems and bones, but lab work will also examine its effect in adults.
Professor Lars Bode, the HMI’s Funding Director, said: ‘Physicians and scientists from UC San Diego and elsewhere have been doing this work for some time, but largely isolated in their respective fields of interest.
“With the novel… Human Milk Institute… we have the ability to learn, coordinate and interact in one fixed place, and speak with one voice.
“Research can inform clinical care, clinical care can inform research, and both can help educate.”
The new, premier hub brings together several labs from the University of California, San Diego, that have studied the nature, biology and therapeutic potential of breast milk.
The Milk Bank is owned and run by UC San Diego. It is one of only 31 nonprofit milk banks in North America and the second in California
UC San Diego’s MOMI CORE was founded to explore how the components of breast milk can be used to treat or prevent disease in infants and adults.
Researchers at the HMI examine breast milk’s ability to prevent a serious gastrointestinal infection that usually affects premature babies
The Milk Bank accepts donated breast milk that is tested, pasteurized, bottled, analyzed for macronutrients and screened for bacterial growth before it is distributed.
Pasteurized donor breast milk is couriered to hospitals and donation sites in California and the Southwest or shipped frozen by FedEx on dry ice from the milk bank
Mothers are urged to breastfeed, if possible, to give their babies the maximum dose of nutrients.
Bottle feeding can be costly for many parents struggling with the financial burden of a new baby.
Formula milk also has different levels of nutrients, determined by the supplier.
And it is often not easy for babies to digest.
However, babies who consume both breast milk and formula may not be getting enough vitamin D and still need drops or mothers who take supplements.
Many women who incorrectly breastfeed believe that it gives babies all the nutrients they need, said Dr. Carol Wagner of the Medical University of South Carolina at Charleston.
dr. Christina Chambers, professor of pediatrics at the UC San Diego School of Medicine and director of Mommy’s Milk Human Milk Research Biorepository said: “From the research lab to the neonatal intensive care unit, the HMI will bring us together in unprecedented ways to support our monumental efforts to discover how breast milk can help people of all ages.’
Breast milk provides infants with vital nutrition with an almost perfect blend of vitamins, proteins and fats that boost babies’ immune systems to fight infection.
These bioactive components could be integral to the development of new drugs for difficult-to-treat conditions.
Professor Bode, a pediatrician at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, said: “We will work to answer critical and life-saving questions, such as “Can components of breast milk be developed into natural therapies or serve as non-invasive diagnostics?”
“Our findings may also help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke in adults,” he said.
The institute also includes community activities and education programs, as well as a milk donation bank where altruistic mothers can donate breast milk to be pasteurized and analyzed for potential contaminants and nutrients.
Breastfeeding rates vary by state, but are generally high.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that of babies born in 2019, 83 percent had been breastfed for part of their early lives.
Nearly 56 percent were breastfed after six months, the amount of time for which breastfeeding is recommended.
The creation of the HMI comes on the heels of a year-long baby food shortage that is ongoing in many parts of the US.
At the height of the shortage, as mothers frantically searched for food for their babies, many were attacked online for failing to breastfeed for free to get around the scarcity.
In reality, there are many reasons why breastfeeding is not possible for some women.
Women with insufficient glandular tissue cannot make milk.
New mothers with health conditions that cause extreme hormonal imbalances due to thyroid dysfunction or polycystic ovary syndrome may also have problems breastfeeding.
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