Global WACh

June 6, 2019

New NIH R01 will study effect of breast milk and gut microbiome to optimize growth in HIV-exposed uninfected children in Africa

Dr. Christine McGrath, PhD, MPH

Dr. Grace Aldrovandi, MD, CM









Congratulations to Principal Investigators, Dr. Christine McGrath (Assistant Professor, Global Health) and Dr. Grace Aldrovandi (Chief, Division of Infectious Disease at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital; Professor, Pediatrics, UCLA Geffen School of Medicine), who received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) R01 award for a new study entitled, “Effects of Human Milk Oligosaccharides and Gut Microbiome on Growth and Morbidity in HIV-Exposed Uninfected Infants.”  The study team includes investigators from the Department of Global Health, Drs. Grace John-Stewart (Global WACh Director; Professor), Donna Denno (Professor), Judd Walson (Professor), Barbra Richardson (Adjunct Research Professor) and from the Kenya Medical Research Institute, Dr. Benson Singa (Research Scientist; Affiliated Assistant Professor, Global Health).

Despite the success in global health efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, there is a growing and often overlooked HIV-exposed uninfected (HEU) population with a substantially higher risk of growth faltering, infectious morbidity, and mortality compared to HIV-unexposed uninfected (HUU) infants. The mechanisms responsible for poor growth and susceptibility to infection in HEU infants are unclear, but recent evidence suggests disturbances in the infant gut microbiome is a major cause.

Research shows that breast milk offers many health benefits for infants that extend into adulthood.  Some of breast milk’s value lies in human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), which serve as prebiotics and probiotics, supporting the growth of the infant gut microbiome and developing immune systems.  An infant’s immune system develops rapidly early in life and good nutrition is critical to that development.  Even a small difference in HMO composition could have significant implications for healthy growth and improved health outcomes in HEU infants.

The study will enroll and follow a cohort of HIV-infected and HIV-uninfected women and evaluate the differences in HMO composition and breast milk over the five-year study.  The findings will help researchers to understand how breast milk affects the infant gut microbiome and to determine whether HMOs are in fact associated with growth and enteric dysfunction in HEU and HUU infants.  The study will provide critical data for the design of interventions to optimize growth and health outcomes in HIV-exposed uninfected children in Africa, a vulnerable and growing population.