Ongoing Research

Our Research program was created to support breastfeeding and the use of donor human milk to fill a gap when mom’s own milk is unavailable. Gaps in knowledge about lactation, donor human milk, and safety and effectiveness of handling and processing of expressed human milk and donor human milk drive our internal research and the external research we support. We’re in a unique position to participate in this research given our access to lactating women and donated milk. Some of this research is conducted on-site in our state-of-the-art custom designed lab facilities, and others are conducted via research partnerships including the University of Texas, Texas A&M, University of Texas Medical Branch, and dairy science.

Given our prioritized preterm infant recipients, specific challenges raised by the practice of neonatology help define our priorities, such as the need to understand growth patterns of preterm infants fed human milk, and how to optimize neurological development. Challenges raised by public health communities, such as how to verify safety of milk feedings in a time of COVID-19, influence our resource allocation as well. In all our research efforts, our priority is always protecting human milk for human babies. 

 

Milk Composition

Our earliest research goal was to understand growth patterns of neonates, and nutritional components of human milk specifically. Numerous clinical studies cite varying growth patterns when preterm infants are fed breast milk, whether mom’s own milk or donor human milk. Assumptions about the uniformity of that milk misled health care providers into believing that human milk was inadequate. We embraced the challenge to expand understanding of the macronutrients in expressed human milk. 

We were the first human milk bank to obtain a MilkoScan FT120 in order to accurately, precisely, and expediently analyze the content of donor human milk. The FT120 is produced by Foss Electric for the measurement of raw material and finished dairy products. Calibrating the machine against standard wet chemistry methods was the first challenge. Once completed, our research, presented to the AAP in 2004, showed a wide variation in milk fat, and a smaller but perhaps more critical variation in protein. This data led us to create a Target Pooling process for milk pool creation – a process that pools deposits of milk from different donors to achieve a targeted caloric and protein content for donor milk. 

 

Donor Milk Processing Efficiencies

Milk banking processes are very manual, but contemporary engineering allows for incorporation of efficient automated processes to be incorporated. We’re committed to these efficiency projects as they support a safe and abundant donor human milk supply.  Successful projects of particular importance have been:

  • Skimmed fat milk – established protocol for creating human milk feedings appropriate for infants with chylothorax. Study conducted under Dr. Frank Cho’s guidance, the process of removing fat from human milk was later revised under Dr. Sonny Rivera’s guidance using a chilled centrifuge to separate the fat.
  • Milk mixing process - incorporation of an automated mixer used to homogenize milk deposits, ensuring nutritional uniformity, better data for target pooling, and increased efficiency. This process was one of the first automations to be completed in order to respond to a need for tight bottle-to-bottle nutrient controls.