Researchers working on the Mothers and Infants Linked for Healthy Growth — or MILK — study analyze the connection between breast milk's fat content, along with other factors, and obesity in what researchers say is one of the nation’s largest breast milk composition studies.
While many other breast milk studies focus on topics like brain development and IQ, Demerath’s 5-year study — set to end in 2019 — looks at some of the lesser-known aspects of breast milk composition.
“What hasn’t been looked at very much is the quality of breast milk,” Demerath said. “There are at least 600 to 1,000 different chemicals in breast milk that have not been adequately studied. So the aim of the MILK study is to understand more about the qualities in breast milk, and [their effective context].”
Children who have an obese mother are 2-to-3 times more likely to be obese as well. Ellen Demerath wants to understand why this happens.
The School of Public Health professor has worked throughout her career to understand how a mother’s nutrition may have an impact on a child’s weight. But, in 2012, she noticed a gap in the research — there hadn’t been a large, standardized study to investigate the role of hormones in breast milk on infant weight gain.
The most common preventable birth defect is fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), which causes cognitive impairments and physical abnormalities among an estimated 2 to 4 percent of the population.
“Sometimes FASD presents with physical symptoms – like smaller eyes, changes to the lip and mid-face, ear abnormalities and other telltale signs – but in most cases it impacts a child in ways we cannot immediately see,” Wozniak said. “But if we know how and where FASD affects the brain, we can provide a more accurate early diagnosis.”
The Driven to Discover Research Facility was launched in 2014 to bring University research and researchers into closer contact with the Minnesota community. Nearly two million people visit the fair each year from across the state.
The exhibit allows fairgoers to participate in research in a fun, innovative, and convenient way. Most studies take under 20 minutes.
Driven to Discover allows researchers to reach a more diverse pool of participants and meet recruitment goals in a matter of hours or days. Over 45,000 fairgoers visited the building last year.
Dr. Suma Jacob, of the University of Minnesota is in Sioux Falls to meet with health care experts in Sioux Falls and Vermillion this week to discuss her work. She is also hoping to recruit other local families, willing to participate in a massive national study to better understand autism and its causes.
The SPARK study will combine data from 50,000 individuals with autism and their families, said Dr. Suma Jacob, a psychiatrist and associate professor at the Minneapolis-based university. The university is participating with 20 other sites on a project Jacob called “the largest autism study that’s been attempted in the U.S.”
The University of Minnesota is conducting a MILK study — it stands for Mothers and Infants Linked for Healthy Growth. The study looks at how breast milk is different from mom to mom and how it affects the baby’s growth.
Demerath, the study’s director, says by measuring how different breastfed babies develop, researchers hope to change health care long term. “If we find things that are in the milk that are particularly good for infants, we’re going to want to personalize maybe nutrition in the mom to augment those factors in the milk,” Demerath said.
“Perhaps the orphanage environment, the stress, potentially repeated infections were changing the dynamics of the body's ability to absorb the nutrients,” Georgieff said.
Georgieff says psychological stress could potentially have the same effect as infection. And that leads to new questions about how best to tackle early childhood iron deficiency. He says there are lots of reasons to continue to build roads and provide delivery packages of micronutrients to children in high risk areas, but perhaps those efforts won’t be as successful in a high-infection, high-stress environment.
“So maybe your best solution isn't providing more iron. Your solution is better hand-washing, better preparation of the foods and so on,” Georgieff said.
The clinic might not exist at all had Eckerle not recognized, shortly after becoming director, that the most intriguing trend at the clinic wasn’t the drop in international adoptees but the concurrent rise in foster children and domestic adoptees. Foster care placements have increased since 2013, especially in Minnesota, largely owing to parental substance abuse and neglect. Yet foster children and domestic adoptees still only comprised about 10 percent of the clinic’s patients when Eckerle took over. When Eckerle began to talk with U administrators about the future of the clinic, she saw a need—and an opportunity.
The medical and psychological issues can be similar among orphaned children, whether foreign or domestic. But most adoption clinics weren’t serving foster kids or domestic adoptees, mostly because they didn’t have the means. “It’s not a lucrative business to see people on medical assistance,” Eckerle notes. As the other clinics began to close, Eckerle became more determined to stay open.