Piglet research to help optimise formula for babies

Friday, 19 April, 2024

Piglet research to help optimise formula for babies

Researchers at Charles Sturt University are conducting what the organisation claim are the first-ever trials with 80 newborn piglets to help discover the best human breast milk alternative. The impact of human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) on improving brain and gut development and reducing anxious behaviour will be looked at through the lens of piglets.

The research, titled ‘Effect of human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) intervention on brain, gut development and behaviour in piglets (2023-2025)’, uses piglets due to their brain structure and function closely resembling that of human infants, as well as their digestive systems sharing similar physiology and anatomical structures with comparable nutrient requirements.

The research team’s lead, Professor of Physiology and Nutrition Bing Wang in the Charles Sturt School of Agricultural, Environmental and Veterinary Sciences, said human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) are the third most abundant class of biomolecules in mature human milk, after lactose and lipids.

“More than 200 different HMOs have been identified, and these can reach levels approximately 20–25 grams per litre in colostrum and 5–20 grams per litre in mature milk,” Wang said.

Wang said the study involves a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach that can also directly benefit the pig industry too, and by working together across disciplines, researchers aim to improve health outcomes for both humans and animals while safeguarding the health of the planet.

The team has now completed three feeding trials in 48 piglets, as well as working with a team at Monash University’s Bioimaging Centre to perform MRI scans of the piglets’ brains to visualise changes in cerebral neurodevelopmental processes at 38 days of age, which is equivalent to about 10–12 months of age as a human infant.

“This is the first preclinical study taking a nutraceutical approach to deliver innovative therapeutic applications of HMOs in gut development, neurodevelopment, immunity and behaviour in piglets, which are an ideal animal model for the human infant,” Wang said.

These studies will further contribute to understanding of molecular, biological and biochemical mechanisms associated with the superior growth and intelligence of breastfed infants, particularly those born small or premature, relative to those reared on infant formula.

Wang said a suitable alternative animal model is essential for future clinic trial studies because it is difficult to differentiate genetic, environmental and nutritional factors, and ethically unacceptable to conduct randomised controlled trials of tissue analysis in human infants.

The research will be carried out until 2025.

Charles Sturt PhD student Mr Mahmudul Amin, Monash University head of pre-clinical imaging Dr Michael De Veer, Charles Sturt imaging specialist Mr Hangxin Wang, Charles Sturt Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Wendy Li, Charles Sturt PhD student Ms Dilki Adikari Arachchige, (Front, L-R) veterinary anaesthesia specialist Dr Tina Bryant, Monash University senior MRI radiographer Mr Richard McIntyre and Charles Sturt research team leader Dr Bing Wang. 

Top image credit: Charles Sturt University

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