The Branch studies the complex nutritional relationships between the mother and her fetus, the placental transfer of nutrients, and the role of nutrition in infant development. Research interests focus on the nutrient requirements of normal, premature and growth-retarded infants, and on contributions of human milk and its components to optimal infant nutrition. Studies are encouraged to assess how maternal factors affect milk composition and lactation performance.
Studies are supported on effects of nutrition on the adolescent growth spurt, the onset of puberty, and etiology, consequences, and prevention of obesity and hyperlipidemia in childhood and adolescence. Special emphasis is placed on studying molecular and biochemical aspects of nutrition, particularly in relationship to growth of cells, tissues, organ systems, and individuals.
Additional focus is placed on cultural and behavioral determinants of food selection and eating behavior, particularly as they impact on health promotion, disease prevention, and the etiology of eating disorders such as anorexia and anorexia-bulimia. Studies also include behavioral and neuroendocrine factors in taste, olfaction, satiety, and the control of food intake. Special attention is focused also on the behavioral and cognitive consequences of nutritional deficiencies and imbalances.
The program also emphasizes development of new non-invasive methods for assessing nutritional status, particularly during infancy, adolescence, pregnancy, and lactation.
As a complement to research on nutrition, the Branch also supports basic and clinical studies on the normal development of the infant gastrointestinal system and digestive function. Particular emphasis is devoted to studies on the interaction of the developing gastrointestinal tract with ingested nutrients in regard to digestion and absorption. Emphasis is placed also on studying the effects of hormones and growth factors in human milk on development and function of the infant gut, including studies of the infant microbiome. Studies of the immunological function of the infant gut in health and disease are also encouraged as well as studies of physiologic and pathologic processes which may be involved in the pathogenesis of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).