New Partnership Explores Future Treatments Using Breast Milk and Microbiome

UC San Diego centers combine efforts to identify early interventions and therapeutics for infant and adult diseases

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​Two renowned research centers at University of California San Diego are joining forces to take a deeper look at how components of human milk and the microbiome can change the course of therapeutics for infant and adult diseases.

MOMI Biome will be comprised of the Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation Mother-Milk-Infant Center of Research Excellence (MOMI CORE) in the UC San Diego School of Medicine and the Center for Microbiome Innovation (CMI) in the Jacobs School of Engineering.

“We are combining our expertise to tap into and raise awareness of the critical impact that early childhood has on the rest of a human’s life,” said Lars Bode, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics at UC San Diego and director of MOMI CORE.

Previous studies have shown the first 1,000 days of life is a key phase for the development of the human microbiome, with breast milk being a primary influencing factor. The microbiome is known not only as a key to healthy early childhood development, but also as an important consideration in maternal health, even before conception.

“The two centers bring a unique cross-disciplinary perspective that can take this research to the next level through multi-omics studies of human milk and the human microbiome,” said Rob Knight, PhD, professor of pediatrics and computer science at UC San Diego and faculty director of CMI.

Bode’s lab studies components of breast milk called human milk oligosaccharides or HMOs, the third most abundant constituent of breast milk after lactose and fat. “Human milk is really fascinating. It contains all these different molecules and benefits for the infant and mothers,” said Bode. 

HMOs help shape microbial communities, serving as prebiotics to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria but also as antimicrobials to keep potential pathogens in check. “Early evidence from previous studies we’ve conducted show that pregnant women on a probiotic supplement make different human milk oligosaccharides,” said Bode.

CMI labs study the microbiome from multiple perspectives, from its presence in the environment and in food to its role in human health and disease. Scientists use state-of-the-art multi-omics (large data sets, such as the genome, epigenome, proteome and others) modeling and other computational tools to accelerate discoveries applicable to the general population.

“We want to understand from Mother Nature what works and how we can use that information to develop new therapeutics for diseases like cancer, diabetes or cardiovascular disease,” said Bode. “We’ve been looking for new therapeutics all around the world, in the deepest oceans and in chemical labs, but maybe the answer has been in front of us the entire time. Maybe the answer to some diseases, like inflammatory bowel disease, is in breast milk.”

“The partnership will put the expertise UC San Diego has to offer in front of the world to raise awareness of the critical impact that early childhood has throughout life and to find early intervention solutions to restore a disturbed microbiome to a healthy state that ensures the child’s life-long wellness,” said Knight.

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