Anne CC Lee and Mandy Brown Belfort of Brigham and Women's Hospital in the U.S. along with Stéphane Sizonenko and Petra Huppi of the University of Geneva in Switzerland will test whether lactoferrin, a breast milk nutrient, can promote growth and reduce injury in the developing infant brain. Of the 15 million annual preterm births, almost a million of the surviving babies have severe neurological defects such as cerebral palsy. However, there are limited treatments available. Breast milk has a positive effect on the infant brain, but the mechanisms for this are unclear. Their preliminary data showed that lactoferrin, a glycoprotein found in breast milk, has a neuroprotective effect in several rat models of neonatal brain injury. They will build on this to study the effect of different concentrations of lactoferrin in the rat models, as well as assaying candidate inflammation, cell death, and neurotrophic factors to identify the molecular mechanisms involved. They will perform a human observational study to associate the different levels of lactoferrin found in breast milk samples from a cohort of mothers of preterm infants at Brigham and Women's Hospital with the infant's brain development as assessed by magnetic resonance imaging. They will also measure lactoferrin levels in samples collected from 100 mothers in Bangladesh to see how they compare. Together, they will generate essential data on lactoferrin for future human clinical trials in low- to middle-income countries.
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