202101 Human Milk as a Biological System

Program seeks Council approval for an initiative entitled “Interrogating human milk as a biological system” – which is directly responsive to both a cross-cutting topic and an aspirational goal of the NICHD Strategic Plan.

The public health community has come to appreciate that a deeper understanding of the biology of human milk is essential to address ongoing and emerging questions about infant feeding practices. The critical pieces of that understanding are that: (1) human milk is a complex biological system, a matrix of many interacting parts, that is more than the sum of those parts; and (2) human milk production needs to be studied as an ecology that consists of inputs from the mother, her breastfed baby, and their respective environments.

Therefore, in order to achieve NICHD’s aspirational goals related to the science of human milk, human milk must first be better understood as a biological system. To that end, the “Breastmilk Ecology: Genesis of Infant Nutrition (BEGIN)” Project was initiated by NICHD in 2020 and was specifically designed to examine this ecology, its functional implications for both mother and infant, and to explore ways in which this emerging knowledge can be expanded via a targeted research agenda and translated to support the community’s efforts to ensure safe, efficacious, and context-specific infant feeding practices. The BEGIN Project outputs will inform the extramural scientific community and applications to this RFA by highlighting research opportunities around the following core issues:

  • Maternal inputs to milk composition
  • Milk components and their interactions within this complex biological system
  • Infant inputs, emphasizing the bi-directional relationships associated with the maternal—infant dyad
  • The application of existing/new technologies/methodologies to study human milk as a complex biological system

The data resulting from the science supported by this RFA will hopefully help to inform approaches to translation and implementation of new knowledge to support safe and efficacious infant feeding practices in the US and globally.

Program Contact

Drew Bremer
Pediatric Growth & Nutrition Branch (PGNB)

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