Research towards infant formula more closely resembling mothers’ milk

Danisco is part of project aimed at developing ways to produce an ingredient naturally present in human breast milk, namely oligosaccharides. These complex sugars are present in breast milk at relatively high concentrations and help protect the infant from infections and diarrhoea.

The Danish Council for Strategic Research has granted DKK 20 million to university scientists for a project aimed at developing ways to produce an ingredient naturally present in human breast milk, namely oligosaccharides. These complex sugars are present in breast milk at relatively high concentrations and help protect the infant from infections and diarrhoea. Danisco and Arla Foods are industrial partners in the project and will contribute to the research programme.

‘This research aims to develop an enzymatic process to produce some of the key oligosaccharides naturally present in human breast milk. It’s a major challenge technically, but it is also a significant opportunity,’ says Dr. Andrew Morgan, Chief Scientific Officer at Danisco.

‘Research in oligosaccharides from human milk is key to understanding the development of the immune system in newborn infants. Therefore the possibility to develop and manufacture such substances can lead to new and higher standards for commercial infant formula,’ says MSc Preben Bødstrup Rasmussen, R&D Manager for Child Nutrition at Arla Foods.

DTU Professor heads up the project

Jørn Dalgaard Mikkelsen, Professor at Technical University of Denmark (DTU), heads up the research and coordinates efforts between DTU, Danisco, Arla Foods, the University of Southern Denmark, University of Copenhagen (KU Life) and University of Reading. Explaining the technological principles behind the findings, Jørn Dalgaard Mikkelsen says: ‘Some of the substances in breast milk are oligosaccharides which are believed to be prebiotic, i.e. they ‘nourish’ the beneficial bacteria in the intestinal system and prevent harmful bacteria from establishing themselves. There are thousands of oligosaccharide structures present in human breast milk and we need to determine which are the most effective. We plan to develop a way to produce these oligosaccharides using an enzymatic process that will convert certain kinds of food materials into the desired products.’

Danisco health, nutrition and sustainability
Danisco is well positioned to leverage its technology platforms in health & nutrition, enzymes and separation in support of developing a sustainable “green” process for the production of this new kind of ingredient for infant formula.

‘This is a long-term project, meaning that it is unlikely that a direct commercial outcome can be achieved in less than five years. It is also a risky project, but the university scientists working on this are some of the best, so if anyone is going to crack this, I believe this team has a good chance,’ says Andrew Morgan.


Arla Foods and infant nutrition

Arla Foods manufacture and sell infant formula in Central America and Asia under the Milex brand. Therefore this project is focusing directly on a key research area. ‘We know that this is a very ambitious long-term project, but we are happy to team up with strong partners, both in academia and with Danisco, which will ensure a positive outcome of the project,’ says Preben Bødstrup Rasmussen.

Health authorities recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 4-6 months subject to regional recommendations.

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