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Faculty & Staff Honors

Faculty & Staff Honors

Washington: Professor Receives $3.6 Million to Explore Links Between Maternal HIV Infection, Breast Milk and Infant Health

Dr. Christine McGrath, an associate professor of global health at the University of Washington Schools of Public Health and Medicine, received a $3.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to evaluate the links between maternal human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, breast milk and the infant gut microbiome. The project is a collaboration with Dr. Grace Aldrovandi from the University of California, Los Angeles.

“HIV-exposed uninfected children get sick more often and do not grow as well as children born to HIV-negative mothers,” Dr. McGrath said. “While the mechanisms responsible for poor growth and increased risk of infection in these infants are unclear, our recent evidence suggests differences in the infant gut microbiome. Breast milk seeds and feeds the infant gut microbiome, contributing bacterial communities and the oligosaccharides to nourish the gut bacteria.”

Human milk oligosaccharides are sugar molecules found in high concentrations exclusively in human breast milk. The special prebiotics support the growth of good gut bacteria and influence development of the immune system. The researchers aim to investigate the relationship between specific human milk oligosaccharides and bacterial communities that may be associated with growth and illness in HIV-exposed uninfected infants.

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