How BoobyBiome is unlocking the mysterious breast milk biome

By Nikki Hancocks

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags maternal nutrition infant microbiome HMOs Probiotics

Doctors Lydia Mapstone, Sioned Fôn Jones and Tara O'Driscoll founded Boobybiome in 2019 on a mission to better preserve beneficial breast milk bacteria and develop synbiotic supplements to support the infant microbiome.

This work led to the creation of a breast milk preservation device, set to launch later this year, which is designed with a bottle lid that includes a cartridge to better mimic the environment of the mammary gland within the bottle and increase storage time by around 3.5 times.

The company has also built a full genome next generation sequencing data set of breast milk and infant stool, as well as a collection of the cultures of interest in breastmilk. As a result, it is developing a multi-strain synbiotic supplement containing the beneficial bacteria isolated from breastmilk, as well as HMOs.

Speaking during a panel discussion on the maternal and infant microbiome at Probiota 2024, Mapstone discussed the company's future plans:  “We are really excited about doing some personalisation of probiotics in the future as the breastmilk microbiome differs a lot between mothers so there may be an opportunity to personalise supplements to better mimic that."

Regarding the importance of HMO personalisation, she cited a study comparing Russian and Finnish infants​, explaining that the composition of the microbiomes of these infants were very different with some including Bifidobacterium​ and Bacteroides​ that would digest and thrive on HMOs, and others that wouldn’t.

Differences in the proportions of the two genera that are able to utilize HMO have been associated with the frequency of allergies and autoimmune diseases in the Finnish and the Russian populations

"This is really interesting because you can provide a really nice composition of HMOs, but you can’t guarantee you will have those right bacteria in the microbiome and so it’s not just about how many HMOs, it’s about the rational design of the composition," she said. "Perhaps an intelligent approach is needed rather than just trying to fill with as many HMOs we can possibly make."

The pregnant microbiome

Also on the panel, Omry Koren, professor of microbiology at Bar-Ilan University, Israel, explained that the gut microbiome changes quite significantly during pregnancy.

"Towards the end of pregnancy, there’s a decrease in diversity, an increase in pathogens, a decrease in SCFAs, and in general this resembles the microbiome of obesity metabolic syndrome," he explained. "If a woman develops gestational diabetes during her pregnancy, she is at much greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes later on in life, and there's a greater risk of her offspring being obese."

He explained that his team realised the microbiomes of women with gestational diabetes differs from those without, and this knowledge can be used to predict potential gestational diabetes from earlier in pregnancy, with an 86% success rate.

"This raises the question of how we prevent it and there’s definitely a role for the microbiome," he said.

Leading the panel, Stephen Daniells, editor-in-chief at NutraIngredients Europe and US, explained that while it is accepted that there is a vaginal microbiome and a foetal microbiome, there is still a question mark over whether the womb is sterile. 

"For the longest time it was accepted that the womb is sterile, and then there were some studies that said there might be something in there," he said, before asking if such results are accurate or the result of some kind of low-level microbial contamination.

The expert panellists came down on the side of a sterile womb. Mapstone explained that several of these studies have not used culture techniques or controls for comparison, and agreed there is the chance of contamination with bacteria from skin or the atmosphere.

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