Can we improve infant formulas to maximize bone health?

Backed by Denny Luan
Raised of $4,500 Goal
Ended on 8/22/14
Campaign Ended
  • $100
  • 3%
  • Finished
    on 8/22/14

About This Project

We have discovered that infant formulas are lacking a novel class of bioactive compounds that are essential for bone development. The goal of this project is to devise strategies for fortifying infant fomulas with these compounds, thereby ensuring optimal bone development in infants fed formulas.

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What is the context of this research?

MicroRNAs are small molecules that play essential roles in gene regulation. Recently, our lab has discovered that humans can absorb microRNAs from cow's milk and that milk-borne microRNAs affect human gene regulation. Gene regulation by dietary microRNAs is conceptually new because scientists originally believed that humans make their own microRNAs. We have also demonstrated that synthesis of microRNAs in humans is not sufficient to compensate for dietary deficiency.

One particular microRNA, miR-29b, plays an essential role in promoting bone development and mineralization. We have shown that the concentrations of miR-29b are about 20 times higher in human breast milk compared with infant formulas, and that no miR-29b is detectable in soy formulas and hypoallergenic formulas.

What is the significance of this project?

This project is relevant to those 3.5 million infants annually in the U.S. that are fed formulas, in particular to the about 600,000 infants fed soy and hypoallergenic formulas. For example, a recent report suggests that the bone mineral density is about 15% lower in infants fed a soy-based, miR-29b-free formula than breast-fed infants at age 3 months. This is a biologically meaningful effect, when considering that bone loss amounts to "only" 1% annually in postmenopausal women.

We have devised a protocol for enriching infant formulas with natural microRNAs and will test the biological activity of these fortified formulas in human adults.

What are the goals of the project?

(1) Recruit eight human adults for a formula feeding study. Note that infants cannot be used because of the comparably large volume of blood to be collected.

(2) Feed the subjects 2 test meals in a randomized cross-over design with at least 1 week between treatments: (a) 1 liter of soy formula; (b) 1 liter of soy formula supplemented with microRNAs at concentrations mimicking those in milk.

(3) Collect blood samples before the formula meals and at timed intervals (up to 24 h) after the meals.

(4) Assess the bioavailability of microRNAs in humans (plasma time curves) and activity toward gene regulation in white blood cells.

(5) Publish research.


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This project will benefit the 3.7 infants born annually in the United States and fed infant formulas. We are also pursuing funding from other sources (federal, industry, and commodity boards), but crowd funding would be instrumental in creating preliminary data. With the preliminary data, we will be uniquely positioned to secure funding from other sources.

The funding will allow us to complete a small feeding study in adults. The results from this study will provide evidence that fortification of infant formulas with microRNAs from milk is a viable approach to optimize bone development in formula-fed infants.

Meet the Team

Janos Zempleni
Janos Zempleni

Team Bio

I have had a career-long interest in the roles of micronutrients, infant nutrition and child development. My primary interests outside of research include playing and coaching soccer and keeping tropical fish.

Brief bio:
Since 2001: Assistant Professor, Associate Professor (2006), Professor (2010), and Willa Cather Professor (2011) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Department of Nutrition and Health Sciences
1998 - 2001: Research Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
1994 - 1998: Postdoctoral Fellow at (1) Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Dept. of Pediatrics; (2) Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Dept. of Biochemistry; and (3) Innsbruck University School of Medicine, Dept. of Pediatrics (Innsbruck, Austria).
1992: Ph.D., Dept. of Nutrition Sciences, University of Giessen, Germany
1988: B.S., Dept. of Nutrition Sciences, University of Giessen, Germany

Project Backers

  • 1Backers
  • 3%Funded
  • $100Total Donations
  • $100.00Average Donation
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