UC San Diego Establishes the World’s First Human Milk Institute

 UC San Diego has founded a Human Milk Institute, a monumental effort to study human milk’s scientific properties and its clinical care implications, develop an effective and safe milk banking system, and cultivate educational impacts for individuals on both a local and global scale. The facility is acknowledged as the first human breast-milk research institute in the world and will be used to benefit infants, new mothers, and others.

Renowned UCSD physicians and scientists now are exploring the potential capabilities of breast milk, which until now has only been utilized for infant healthcare. The HMI is led by Founding Director Lars Bode, Ph.D., concurrently a professor of pediatrics at UCSD School of Medicine, whose focus is to transform researchers’ approach to analyzing and utilizing the nutrient-rich substance. 

“With the novel, comprehensive approach of the Human Milk Institute at UC San Diego,” Bode said, “we have an opportunity to learn, coordinate and interact in a single, go-to place, and be able to speak with one voice. Research can inform clinical care, clinical care can inform research and both can help educate.”

The establishment of a dedicated institute allows researchers to conduct scholarly discourse and operations more efficiently, providing synthesized and data-backed evidence to address the many unanswered questions pediatricians and patients currently have regarding human milk. According to UC San Diego TODAY, some of these critical questions include whether “components of human milk can be developed into natural therapies or serve as non-invasive diagnostics” or if it can be used to treat adult health conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, cancer, diabetes and obesity.

According to Bode, doctorates, physicians, and scientists have been doing this work for a while, but progress suffered from a lack of collaboration. Thus, the HMI intends to combine work from UCSD’s research institutes, clinical care centers, and education departments. Entities such as the Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation Mother-Milk-Infant Center of Researcher Excellence, the UC San Diego Health Milk Bank, UCSD’s Department of Pediatrics, and the Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute, are also included to “improve the lifelong health of all people through human milk,” said doctorate faculty member Christina Chambers. 

Paired with UCSD’s successful efforts in researching findings regarding breast milk, including its potential prevention of food allergies and ability to possibly transmit COVID-19 from mother to child, scientists such as Chambers look forward to furthering such efforts and positively impacting human health in an established setting. She remarked that “the HMI will bring us together in unprecedented ways to support our monumental efforts in discovering how human milk can help people of all ages.” 

Art by Michelle Deng for the UCSD Guardian

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