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Mother’s Milk and Infant Health

Nathan Yu presents his research


CTRI and Rady Children's Establish Research-only Breast Milk Biorepository

July 28, 2014 – UC San Diego Clinical and Translational Research Institute (CTRI) and Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego are co-creating the first research-only breast milk biorepository in the region. Established to support a wide range of research interests in maternal and infant health, the biorepository will include disease-specific and normal breast milk samples. Housed in -80 degree freezers, these research samples will be accessible at various locations, including CTRI's Translational Research Technology (TRT) location at the UC San Diego Medical Center at Hillcrest campus and Rady Children's.

"Human breast milk is a unique source of nutrition and we are coming to understand how incredibly beneficial it is," said Christina Chambers, PhD, Director of Clinical Research at UC San Diego's Department of Pediatrics and Associate Director, CTRI Center for Clinical Research at Rady Children's.

Chambers and David Boyle, co-director of CTRI's TRT Division, are collaborating on the breast milk biorepository, which is anticipated to open later this year.

The biorepository will enable studies about such topics as the presence of pharmaceuticals or other agents taken by a nursing mother in her milk; human milk oligosaccharides – a complex carbohydrate – and their potential benefit to newborns and preemies, particularly in promoting digestive tract health; and whether a mother's exposure to environmental contaminants could be passed to her child through breast milk. As new medications are not routinely studied for safety in human breast milk, women and health care providers often have insufficient information to help inform decisions about treatment while breastfeeding. Agents of interest that might be taken by a nursing mother include anti-inflammatory drugs used to treat autoimmune diseases, certain pain medications, some antihypertensive medications, and even illicit drugs.

"Does a particular agent cross in an appreciable amount? For instance, does a particular pain reliever given to a mother during or after birth get into her breast milk and might it sedate the baby?" Chambers asked.

The collection of 50-milliliter samples for the biorepository begins this summer with a donation from a healthy mother of twins. Samples typically will be portioned into 1- or 2-milliliter samples [For reference: 1 teaspoon equals 5 milliliters]; larger volumes may be available depending on investigator need.

"The collection will contain two basic samples types: one will be collected under optimized conditions from healthy mothers getting well-baby checks; the second will be targeted from mothers with particular exposures," Boyle said. "Our goal is provide a matrix of sample types and be responsive to community needs and interests."

Primary initial sources of recruitment will be at Rady Children's 7910 Frost Street Building, and at the newborn nursery and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at UC San Diego Medical Center at Hillcrest, said Chambers. "These will be convenient for consent and sample collection," she said. The whole process – filling out forms and expressing milk with an electric pump – would take about 30 minutes.

Boyle said the biorepository will grow its collection based on research needs. "We're interested in identifying potential users of the repository and their particular scientific questions of interest," he said.

Chambers added, "The standard story is that breast milk is breast milk is breast milk, but are there subtle differences in it? Is there a difference if you have low BMI or high BMI? Is it different if you are diabetic?"

Research using the biorepository is expected to extend across several UC San Diego departments, including Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Pediatrics, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, as well as regionally with partners such as San Diego State University.

"It's a unique effort that will serve an important research function in understanding infant nutrition, the microbiome, medications and environmental contaminants that pass into breast milk and how this all works to benefit – or not – the health of the infant," Chambers said.

Requests for collections and access may be made through the CTRI Service Request Form.

Written By Patti Wieser


About UC San Diego Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute:

UC San Diego Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute (ACTRI) is part of a national Clinical and Translational Science Award consortium, led by the National Institutes of Health National Center for Advancing Translational Science. Established in 2010, ACTRI provides infrastructure and support for basic, translational and clinical research throughout the San Diego region to bring discoveries from the laboratory to the bedside, and facilitates training and education of the next generation of researchers. ACTRI carries out its activities in collaboration with institutional and corporate partners and currently has more than 1,500 members.