Unlocking a mother’s most precious resource.
BY MICHELLE BRUBAKER
IN HIS YOU TH, Lars Bode was a dedicated
athlete who spent much of his time studying
specialized diets for optimal performance.
“I was constantly teased by my older brother
for my ‘strange’ concoctions,” says Bode,
now an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at UC San Diego School
Yet those jokes turned into a change in Bode’s
career path when he landed an internship
at a baby formula company.
“I worked on a project during that internship involving glycolipids—components of
human milk that are part fat and part sugar.
But the group next door was studying human
milk oligosaccharides and the many magical
things they can do. It was a defining moment
for me,” says Bode.
The “magic” of breast milk is owed to that
complex blend of proteins, fats, minerals,
vitamins and sugar molecules called human
milk oligosaccharides, or HMOs. There are
about 200 types of HMOs, and like thumbprints, their combinations and concentrations are unique to each nursing mother.
“The components of breast milk are
fascinating in what they can do and the
health benefits to the infant and mother,”
says Bode. “There are bacteria and even
stem cells in human milk that might benefit
the infant, and possibly the mother.
There are also several different immune
cells in human milk that provide protection.
A mother’s body can sense what is in the
environment and what immune cells and
antibodies need to be delivered to an infant
at a given time. Mothers who breastfeed
also have a lower risk of cancer.”
Bode’s passion and dedication to his
research recently earned him funding to
study how the compounds in human milk
could treat chronic illnesses in adults,
like inflammatory bowel disease.
“Lactating mothers could be the key for
future drug development,” says Bode.
“It’s very important to see if we can take
components of human milk and develop
them in natural therapies. If HMOs can
prevent necrotizing enterocolitis, a deadly
gastrointestinal disease that primarily
affects premature babies, could it be
possible they work in adult diseases?”
And while researchers hunt for novel
therapies the world over, Bode is committed to discovering more about the health
benefits already inside us and stands by his
commonsense approach: use the human
body to heal the human body.
“Mom has developed a whole arsenal of
bioactive components that have been proven
safe for the infant,” says Bode. “Mother
Nature holds exciting opportunities for us
to develop novel drugs based on what we
learn from human milk research.”
Bode’s funding will help UC San Diego
lead the way in these discoveries by
launching MoMI CoRE, the Mother Milk
Infant Center of Research Excellence.
“Our mission for MoMI CoRE is to unravel
the complexity of human milk for optimal
infant health by promoting excellence,
synergy and innovation in research, clinical
practice and education,” says Bode.
THE MILK MAN
UC San Diego School of Medicine
While human milk may be the
healthiest possible start to life,
some mothers can be too ill or
other wise unable to produce
enough milk—particularly when
their babies are born premature.
A gift from San Diegans Hannah
and Zachary Johnson will allow
UC San Diego to launch the first
milk bank in Southern California.
The Mother’s Milk Bank at UC
San Diego will collect and provide
donor milk to local hospitals for
the optimal care of its tiniest
patients. The bank will also work
with community partners to
improve breastfeeding education
and awareness of milk donation.
Learn more at
–Jade Griffin ’03