Dr Carrie-Ellen Briere, Assistant Professor in the Elaine Marieb College of Nursing, has been awarded a National Institutes of Health K23, Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award for her research project titled "Cellular Components of Human Milk: An Examination of Their Role in Infant Health and Development and the Functional Impact of Hospital Storage Practices”.

Preterm infants are at increased risk of health complications due to their under-developed organ systems at birth, and human milk receipt is recognized as an important intervention to promote infant health. Recent identification of cells in human milk which have similar characteristics to stem cells, as well as animal models which show integration of these cells into nursling’s organs, indicate an important function of milk cells which is currently not understood. In the NICU, infants often receive human milk which has been refrigerated or frozen, and then warmed and/or thawed prior to feeding. The impact of these typical handling practices on the cellular components of milk that may provide an important mechanism of biologic protection in infant health has not been investigated. This work will determine how the real-life storage and handling of human milk impacts infant health and development, and will be the first to evaluate protective mechanisms. This research project will examine first how hospital storage practices (refrigeration and freezing) impact the protective mechanisms of human milk cells through the use of a tissue culture model of intestinal health, and then will determine if milk cells are integrated as functioning cells specific to vital organs impacted by preterm birth (brain, heart, lungs, intestine) using a cross-foster mouse model.