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Student research project

Supervisors: Professor Peter Meikle, Dr Sudip Paul, Dr Satvika Burugupalli and Dr Alexandra George

Research focus

The Metabolomics laboratory uses state-of-the-art tandem mass spectrometry to obtain metabolic/lipid profiles from cell and animal models in addition to clinically relevant human samples to develop new approaches to diagnosis, risk assessment and therapy for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Project summary

Breastfeeding, the biological norm of feeding babies, provides numerous health benefits to babies. Infant-formula-feeding is thought to be inferior to breastfeeding because human milk provides specific and non-specific factors that have long-term consequences for early metabolism and the development of diseases. However, the 20th century witnessed an increase in formula feeding. Currently, only 35% of infants are exclusively breastfed in the first six months of their life.

Lipids make up 3–5% of the composition of human breast milk. Besides providing energy, breast milk lipids are also necessary for the infant growth and development. We have recently identified that infants who are breastfed have a vastly different circulating lipidome to that of infants who are formula-fed. Furthermore, breast milk and infant formula have distinct lipid profiles from each other. In particular, breastfed infants have significantly more ether lipids than formula-fed infants, and breast milk has significantly more ether lipids than infant formula. Ether lipids are a class of lipids of increasing interest in early life studies, with unique structural feature and are thought to have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties.

We hypothesise that one way breastfeeding provides immune protection, is that breast milk ether lipids can modulate immune cell function and thereby help in the development of immunity in infants. The aims of this project are to:

  1. Explore how modifiable breast milk ether lipids are by supplementing pregnant and lactating mice.
  2. Explore how differing milk ether lipids impacts the immune cells of the pups, including the immune cell lipidome and the susceptibility of these immune cells to pathogenic stimuli such as oxidative stress and inflammation.

This project is suitable for a Master or PhD student.

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  1. Breastfeeding, the immune response, and long-term health. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association 2006;106(4):203–7.
  2. Human milk composition: nutrients and bioactive factors. Paediatric clinics of North America 2013;60(1):49–74.
  3. Plasmalogens: a potential therapeutic target for neurodegenerative and cardiometabolic disease. Progress in Lipid Research 2019;74(9):186–95.

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