Three New Studies on Human Milk

Title: Macronutrient analysis of modified-fat breast milk produced by 3 methods of fat removal.

In: JPEN (Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition) 2019 Sep 17. doi: 10.1002/jpen.1710. [Epub ahead of print]

Authors: Barbas KH, O'Brien K, Forbes PW, Belfort MB, Connor JA, Thiagarajan RR, Huh S.

Abstract "Background: Infants with chylothorax after congenital heart disease surgery are commonly treated using modified-fat breast milk. The effect of fat removal on breast milk macronutrients remains unclear. We compared macronutrient content of breast milk with breast milk skimmed using 3 methods, including a novel device, a cream separator. Methods: Thawed frozen breast milk samples from 30 women were defatted using refrigerated centrifuge, cream separator, and manual separation after refrigeration. We used standard assays to measure energy, protein, and fat content of breast milk samples. Results: All fat removal methods yielded skimmed breast milk with substantially lower fat and energy content. Mean energy content in breast milk skimmed by centrifuge (36.7 [SD 3.6] kcal/100 mL) was similar to that from cream separator (38.8 [3.5] kcal/100 mL). Both centrifuge and cream separator methods removed almost all fat and substantially more fat than the manual fat removal method. For unprocessed milk, energy and fat content estimated by creamatocrit was similar to reference method measurements; in skimmed milk, the creamatocrit significantly overestimated fat content. Mean protein content of skimmed breast milk was similar to unprocessed breast milk (mean 1.25 [0.31] g/100 mL). Conclusion: Breast milk fat removal did not significantly alter protein levels. In skimmed breast milk, the overestimation of fat content using creamatocrit method suggests a need for more accurate bedside methods to assess macronutrient content. The similar macronutrient composition of breast milk skimmed by cream separator and centrifuge suggests the potential for cream separator use as a new, portable defatting method for hospitals and families."

Abstract only:


Title: Milk analysis using milk analyzers in a standardized setting (MAMAS) study: A multicentre quality initiative.

In: Clinical Nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland) 2019 Sep 3. pii: S0261-5614(19)33040-7. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2019.08.028. [Epub ahead of print]

Authors: Kwan C, Fusch G, Rochow N, Fusch C; MAMAS Study collaborators.

Abstract "Background: Human milk analyzers are increasingly used to rapidly measure the macronutrient content in breast milk for individual target fortification, to reduce the risk of postnatal growth restriction. However, many milk analyzers are used without calibration, validation or quality assurance. Aims: To investigate measurement quality between different human milk analyzers, to test whether accuracy and precision of devices can be improved by establishing individual calibration curves, and to assess long-term stability of measurements, following good clinical laboratory practice (GCLP). Methods: Sets of identical breast milk samples were sent to 13 participating centres in North America and Europe, for a total of 15 devices. The study included 3 sets of samples: A) initial assessment of the device's performance consisting of 10 calibration samples with random replicates; B) long term stability and quality control consisting of 2 batches of samples to be measured every time before the device is used, over 6 months; C) ring trial consisting of 2 samples to be measured monthly. The devices tested were Unity SpectraStar (n = 5) and MIRIS Human Milk Analyzer (n = 10). Results: There are significant variations in accuracy and precision between different milk analyzers' fat, protein and lactose measurements. However, the accuracy of measurements can be improved by establishing individual correction algorithms. Repeated measurements are more robust when coming from a larger batch volume. Long term stability also varies between devices. Conclusion: The variations in measurements between devices are clinically significant and would impact both daily dietary prescriptions, and the outcomes of clinical studies assessing the effect of targeted adjustment of nutrient intake in preterm babies. This study shows that it is crucial to follow GCLP when using milk analyzers to ensure proper measurement of macronutrients, similar to what is required of other medical devices."

Open access:


Title: The milk protein alpha-casein suppresses triple negative breast cancer stem cell activity via STAT and HIF-1alpha signalling pathways in breast cancer cells and fibroblasts.

In: Journal of Mammary Gland Biology and Neoplasia. 2019 Sep 12. doi: 10.1007/s10911-019-09435-1. [Epub ahead of print]

Authors: Garner KEL, Hull NJ, Sims AH, Lamb R, Clarke RB.

Abstract "Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) is the most lethal breast cancer subtype. Extended periods of lactation protect against breast cancer development, but the mechanisms underlying this protection are unknown. We examined the effects of the milk protein alpha-casein over expression in the triple negative MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cell line. The effects of recombinant alpha-casein added exogenously to MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells, and immortalised human fibroblasts were also investigated. We used transcriptional reporters to understand the signalling pathways downstream of alpha-casein in breast cancer cells and these fibroblasts that were activated by breast cancer cells. To extend our findings to the clinical setting, we analysed public gene expression datasets to further understand the relevance of these signalling pathways in triple negative breast cancer cells and patient samples. Finally, we used small molecular inhibitors to target relevant pathways and highlight these as potential candidates for the treatment of TN breast cancer. High levels of alpha-casein gene expression were predictive of good prognosis across 263 TNBC patient tumour samples. Alpha-casein over expression or exogenous addition reduces cancer stem cell (CSC) activity. HIF-1alpha was identified to be a key downstream target of alpha-casein, in both breast cancer cells and activated fibroblasts, and STAT transcription factors to be upstream of HIF-1alpha. Interestingly, HIF-1alpha is regulated by STAT3 in breast cancer cells, but STAT1 is the regulator of HIF-1alpha in activated fibroblasts. In analysis of 573 TNBC patient samples, alpha-casein expression, inversely correlated to HIF-1alpha, STAT3 and STAT1. STAT1 and STAT3 inhibitors target HIF-1alpha signalling in activated fibroblasts and MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells respectively, and also abrogate CSC activities. Our findings provide an explanation for the protective effects of lactation in TNBC. Clinical data correlates high alpha-casein expression with increased recurrence-free survival in TNBC patients. Mechanistically, alpha-casein reduces breast cancer stem cell activity in vitro, and STAT3 and STAT1 were identified as regulators of pro-tumorigenic HIF-1alpha signalling in breast cancer cells and fibroblasts respectively."

Open access: