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.
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.
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: