Milk’s secret for fighting childhood infections
UC Davis microbiologist David Mills received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to test whether certain milk sugars can prevent life-threatening diarrheal diseases in young children. Globally, these gastrointestinal infections are the second leading cause of death among children under the age of five, each year killing 1.5 million children.
Mills, an authority on the molecular biology of lactic acid bacteria used in foods, said, “We will examine the ability of these compounds from milk to prevent gastrointestinal infections and to establish healthy bacteria in the intestines.” He and his colleagues are working to move the basic research toward practical applications in human health.
Earlier research has shown that similar oligosaccharides in human breast milk play an important role in supporting growth of protective bacteria in babies’ digestive tracts. Such bacteria are known to minimize the risk and severity of diarrheal disease and other gastrointestinal infections in infants.
The UC Davis researchers are hopeful that milk from cows will provide an abundant source of oligosaccharides that have comparable therapeutic characteristics for young children who are no longer breast-feeding.
Mills noted that if the researchers’ hypothesis proves correct, they plan to explore how oligosaccharides can be incorporated in a healthful, cost-effective manner into various food products designed for nutritional therapy and for use in international famine and malnutrition relief efforts.For more information, read the full press release.