Gregg Ward, VP (Science Nutrition and Digital health, China, North Asia & Oceania) and Head, Danone Early Life Nutrition and Danone Open Science Research Center pointed out the above during the first day of Growth Asia Summit 2023 held in Singapore on September 26.
He was speaking on the topic “AI with Biomimicry inspired nutritional innovations delivering value in early life and beyond.”
From the bacteria composition to milk droplet structure, human milk has been the key inspiration for Danone’s new infant formula product development process – a concept which the company terms as “biomimicry inspiration”.
This is because human milk or breastfeeding offers a plethora of benefits, from optimal growth, brain and eye development, lower incidence of infections and illnesses, and lower risk of allergies.
At the summit, Ward revealed that the firm will be launching in China this year a new infant formula containing milk phospholipid coated lipid droplets trademarked Nuturis. It is said to mimic that of milk lipid droplets found in breast milk.
For instance, it is around 4 µm in size and comes with a phospholipid membrane. A human milk fat globule has a volume-based diameter of 3 to 5 µm.
“It is a droplet that is quite large in size, around 0.4mm that is encapsulated with a large phospholipid layer on the outside.
“It is a droplet with this important phospholipid membrane – the milk fat globule membrane, which is particularly important, and we are still discovering more of the benefits that this provides in early life,” he said, adding that this was made possible via a new process that could replicate some of the structure of the human milk fat globule.
In contrast, standard infant formula milk droplets are about eight to 10 times smaller than a human milk fat globule, due to processes such as spray drying. They also do not come with the phospholipid membrane.
“Standard infant formula which is sprayed dry is much smaller, around eight to 10 times smaller, because it is broken up and dispersed through processing from efficiency of the spray drying process,” he pointed out.
Findings from preclinical and human clinical research have showed that Nuturis could be digested more closely to human milk and could even produce far-reaching benefits, such as better metabolic outcomes, as well as body mass index (BMI) and z-scores that are comparable to breastfed babies based on a five-year follow-up study.
Results of a RCT published in Nutrients last year showed that infant formula containing Nuturis could promote growth comparable to standard products.
Aside from being proven safe and well-tolerated, it has also shown benefits for cognitive development.
Lipids are the second largest component in breast milk, standing at around 30 to 50 grams per litre in human milk.
Ward said the company has spent about 10 years of research in the human milk fat globule.
“We have conducted more than 10 years of research in this area, where we are able to mimic the milk fat globule structure, not just the ingredients, but the physical structure of an eight times larger human milk fat globule, with the membrane on the outer barrier of phospholipids and other important elements…
“We are super excited and in fact, this is the first time that we have spoken about this in a public domain, although it’s been shared in the healthcare professional community already.
“The product will be launched in China this year as our innovation coming into market,” he said.
Applying human milk bacteria knowledge
On the other hand, the company has also applied its understanding of the human milk bacteria into the development of its Aptamil infant formulas.
This is seen in the company’s application of Syneo – a unique blend of probiotics and prebiotic oligosaccharides into its infant formulas.
For the probiotics, the company uses the Human-Residential Bifidobacteria (HRB) breve M-16V – which is said to be the first HRB strain approved for use in China in baby food. As HRB are naturally found in the gut, it could colonise and thrive in human gut.
As for prebiotics, it consists of short-chain galacto-oligosaccharides (scGOS) and long-chain fructo-oligosaccharides (lcFOS) in the ratio of nine to one.
The Qilin study conducted by the firm in China has shown that this blend could increase the abundance and diversity of gut bifidobacteria in infants.
The company has also conducted another trial known as the Dragon study using the Syneo blend. Findings have showed that it could increase beneficial bacteria and reduce harmful bacteria. The study is still ongoing.