The next infant formula staple? NZMP eyes milk fat globule membrane potential

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21 Nov 2018 --- As scientific understanding of infant development evolves, the industry is seeing growing opportunities for infant nutrition formulas that come as close to human breast milk as possible, and which benefit aspects such as brain and immune health. In this space, NZMP, Fonterra’s B2B ingredients business, is making strides in uncovering the potential of milk fat globule membrane (MFGM).

Although breastfeeding is recognized as the best method of ensuring that infants get the best nutrition possible, for those infants unable to consume mother’s milk, infant formula is the only suitable alternative.

NZMP’s Dr. Sophie Gallier, a senior research scientist in nutrition, last week gave a keynote presentation at the International Symposium on Milk Genomics and Human Health in Sacramento on the science of MFGM, which is also covered in a white paper.

Gallier’s presentation covered the scientific community’s current understanding of the MFGM composition, structure and role in infant nutrition. She discussed the most recent research results, as well as the potential future developments needed to manufacture infant formula to more closely match the nutritional benefits of human milk.

Click to Enlarge
Dr. Sophie Gallier, Senior Research Scientist in Nutrition at NZMP.

“NZMP has two commercial ingredients (SureStart MFGM Lipid 100 and 70) that contain MFGM. The development of these two ingredients was based on the realization that MFGM lipids in human milk are crucial to brain development. MFGM lipids are not present in infant formula due to the common use of vegetable oils as a source of fat, instead of milk fat. This points  to the increasing need for adding those specific lipids back into infant formula,” Gallier tells NutritionInsight. 

“These specific lipids are complex milk lipids found in the milk fat globule membrane, which is the trilayer of phospholipids and other lipids and membrane proteins. They stabilize the milk fat globules in human milk and milk from other mammalian species.”

Crucial to the success of these ingredients in infant nutrition, Gallier says, is proof that they play a role in infant nutrition and brain development early in life.

“There is a recognition that the first few years of life are very critical for long-term health. The brain develops rapidly during pregnancy but also in the first few years of life, making it important to give the right nutrition during these periods,” she says. “Brain development is one of the key aspects that parents are interested in. They are also interested in protection against infections early in life and the MFGM also plays a role in that.”  

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SureStart MFGM Lipid 100 and 70 are two dairy ingredients rich in milk fat globule
membrane for pediatric applications to support healthy brain development.

Composition presents challenges
“One of the key challenges is that a lot of the development of pediatric ingredients and the regulatory requirements for infant formula products are focused on the composition, aiming to deliver infant formula with a composition closer to that of human milk. But there is increasing recognition that the structure of food plays a key role in digestion and bioavailability of nutrients,” she notes. 

“If you look at human milk lipids, they are present as globules stabilized by a particular membrane, the MFGM. The way formula manufacturers make an infant formula results in a fat structure that is very different. So it is a lipid droplet that is much smaller than the milk fat globule, but also the membrane interface of the infant formula lipid droplets is very different to that of the milk fat globule membrane. The surface comprises mostly proteins instead of having this very complex trilayer of phospholipids with different specific membrane proteins and lipids such as cholesterol.”

“One of the main challenges from the food science point of view is going to be replicating the milk fat globule structure. The structure likely has an impact on the digestion kinetics and lipid metabolism. This contributes to the delivery of lipids at the right time in the body and right place in the gastrointestinal tract, where they may play a role on gut protection or maturation or be better absorbed.”

Although the company sees great potential for MFGM, Gallier points to the need to replicate clinical studies to demonstrate the role of MFGM for brain development. This is because clinical trial evidence so far has been based on trials with different ingredients, MFGM doses, clinical trial designs and developmental assessments.

Moreover, strong scientific evidence is needed for all infant nutrition ingredients to convey that they can support the development of infants. Regulatory pathways can also prove tricky, with tighter requirements for ingredients for pediatric applications. 

“Depending on the jurisdiction, an ingredient might have different names. We need to have a clear route for regulatory approvals and marketing it. And usually, regulatory and market access involves showing that the ingredient is safe, suitable and efficacious,” she notes. “To facilitate this, NZMP has a very strong research program to provide the scientific evidence needed to support the sale of our ingredients for inclusion in infant formula.”

Research and development is ongoing, but Gallier points to the huge potential for MFGM in infant nutrition, noting it could become as popular as DHA.

“The main lipid that has gotten quite a lot of attention the last 30 years and that is present in human milk is DHA. Its addition to infant formula is becoming mainstream and compulsory in some jurisdictions. It is quite well known that DHA plays a role for brain function, but we currently realize that there is more than DHA for brain development in early life. What we will probably see in the next few years is that the MFGM will become the new DHA. It will become something that almost all, if not all, infant formula manufacturers will be adding to infant formula,” she concludes.

By Lucy Gunn

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