Investigators: Denise Hassinger, MD and Chris Lee, PhD

Human milk (HM) is understood to be the best source of nutrition for newborn babies; in part due to its nutritional benefits, but also because human milk contains important digestive enzymes, oligosaccharides, immunological and anti-inflammatory factors, antioxidants, growth factors and hormones that all contribute to an infant’s overall long-term health. We have recently embarked on a project to collect and analyze HM, in order to more clearly understand the specific ways that exposure to a mother’s own milk (MOM) can improve outcomes for premature infants.

At the moment, we are developing and optimizing a novel assay to measure total protein glycosylation in HM. This lectin-based microplate assay will allow us to correlate human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) to clinical outcomes in neonates. More broadly, we’d like to understand
if protein glycosylation and/or HMO levels can be used as a marker of neonatal gastrointestinal conditions that are common among premature infants, such as necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). These studies are made possible because we maintain an on-site HM biobank, which was established by Dr. Hassinger. The biobank is particularly valuable for clinical correlation studies because 1) a significant percentage of the existing samples were collected within the first 48 hours after infants were admitted to the NICU and many HM samples are considered colostrum; 2) longitudinal samples were collected from donors, in some cases out to several months post-delivery. Collection of HM samples and the associated clinical data is an on-going effort.

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