Dairy Research Institute Grant Supports Innovative Work by FFHI Researchers


As part of a research grant funded by the Dairy Research Institute, Foods for Health Institute researchers will be investigating the effects of feeding different doses of bovine milk oligosaccharides (BMOs, or sugars from cow’s milk) for the purpose of modifying the gastrointestinal function in healthy people. The grant includes the collaborative work of Dr. Daniela Barile, Dr. Dave Mills, Dr. Angela Zivkovic, Dr. Jennifer Smilowitz, Dr. Carolyn Slupsky and Dr. Bruce German. 

The members of the Milk Bioactives and Functional Glycobiology Programs have shown how human milk oligosaccharides, or complex sugars in breast milk, help to grow specific beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal system. However, in order to carry out a large-scale research project, it would be impossible to obtain a large enough sample of human milk in order to extract the valuable oligosaccharides, so Dr. Daniela Barile and others are using bovine milk as a source of these oligosaccharides.  Although it is more difficult to extract the BMOs, since the sugar molecules are more numerous in human milk, the bovine milk sugar molecules function similarly to enrich beneficial bacteria while also inhibiting undesirable bacteria in the gut, and as such, bovine milk offers a plentiful resource to procure the oligosaccharides.

This study is the first human trial to use bovine milk oligosaccharides because, until this point, no one has been able to produce these molecules. Dr. Barile collaborates with Hilmar Ingredients (Hilmar, CA) to obtain the BMOs from cheese whey permeate, the byproduct of whey protein manufacturing. Whey permeate is currently discarded at the end of that process; by using this industrial waste, Dr. Barile and collaborators are producing molecules that are potentially beneficial to human health.

Dr. Barile is also using innovative techniques to locate the BMOs in various dairy streams. Until Dr. Barile began to publish her research findings in 2009, no one even knew that there were a variety of complex human milk–like oligosaccharides in whey. Through her partnership with Hilmar, she has been obtaining kilogram amounts of these unique molecules using membrane filtration. This green technique doesn’t use the typical solvents or chemicals found in other isolation methods, and the materials can be recycled afterwards. Dr. Barile’s lab will also be collaborating with Dr. Carlito Lebrilla’s lab by using a platform of mass spectrometry to look at other milk components like glycolipids and glycoproteins.

Dr. Carolyn Slupsky will be analyzing urinary metabolites in order to measure the effects of the BMOs in the gastrointestinal system. This technique does not require procuring bacteria from fecal samples, as is usually done. Dr. Slupsky will be looking at bacteria metabolites with the hope of identifying correlations in certain subjects which can then be compared with other results to produce a marker for monitoring the improvement of overall health. The novel techniques that are part of this grant show the exciting, collaborative work that FFHI researchers do to improve human health through innovative methods.

The study has been approved by the UC Davis Institutional Review Board and subject recruitment is under way, coordinated by Dr. Jennifer Smilowitz, Associate Director of Human Studies Research. If you have any questions or are interested in being screened for this study, please call the Clinical Coordinator, Melissa Breck at [email protected].