Innate immune properties of breast milk for the preterm neonate
Western Australia (WA) has a large burden of preterm births (8.6% of births <37 weeks gestational age in 2008). Preterm infants are vulnerable to infections during infancy and early childhood, however, feeding preterm infants breast milk significantly reduces their risk. Immune factors such as cytokines, soluble receptors, antimicrobial peptides, leukocytes and chemokines have been identified in breast milk, and may directly impact the immune system of the infant or inhibit the growth of invading pathogens. Despite this, little is known about preterm milk and the impact of specific components on protection against bacterial pathogens. We are conducting two clinical studies to discover the concentration of these factors in preterm compared to term mothers milk, whether breast milk has antibacterial activity against the most common bacterial causes of infection in the neonatal period, and whether addition of specific milk factors to formula as an intervention can have similar effects on bacterial growth as whole milk.
Why my research is important
There is a paucity of data available on the levels of protective immune factors in preterm human breast milk. This study will extend our understanding of how a range of immune factors known to be present in human milk may differ according to the gestational age of the infant at birth, and how these factors affect the immunological competence of preterm neonates. The information gained through this research may influence future policy regarding the feeding or possible supplementation with milk factors in preterm infants.