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Why Human Milk Oligosaccharides Are A Breakthrough

By harnessing human milk oligosaccharides, Abbott researchers strive to make Similac® infant formula closer to breast milk than ever before.

human milk oligosaccharides and Similac
Feb 23 2017

We all know about the benefits of breast milk and, as moms, of course we want to give our babies the very best. But, the reality is that not every mom can breastfeed, either exclusively or at all.

That’s where the benefit of years of pioneering Abbott research comes in. Dedicated to helping mothers provide their babies with the best nutrition, Abbott researchers continuously analyze breast milk, the “gold standard” of infant nutrition, in an effort to unlock its potential for formula-fed babies around the world.

The Role of HMOs

Research increasingly demonstrates that some of breast milk’s value lies in the nutritional component human milk oligosaccharides*, also known as HMOs.  They are the third most abundant ingredient in breast milk after fat and carbohydrates.

In breastfed babies, HMOs feed the good bacteria in a baby’s gut where about 70 percent of the immune system exists. And research shows some are also absorbed in the blood stream to support a baby’s developing immune system beyond the gut.

“This may explain why babies who are breast fed often have stronger developing immune systems,” explains Rachael Buck, PhD, an Abbott research scientist and expert in immune health. She notes that a baby’s immune system develops rapidly early in life, and nutrition is critical to that development.

HMOs Explained

What is 2'-FL?

Currently, more than 100 HMOs have been identified—and one HMO specifically, 2’-FL HMO, is poised to be the next big breakthrough in infant formula, a significant advancement in infant nutrition. 2’-FL is a unique immune-nourishing prebiotic and it’s the most abundant HMO in most moms’ breast milk. Up until recent years, the ingredient has only been available to babies fed breast milk, but a recent study shows 2’-FL added to infant formula can help strengthen a formula-fed baby’s immune system.

In the study, researchers followed more than 200 babies, comparing those who breastfed to those given formulas with or without a structurally identical version of 2’-FL. After six weeks, tests showed some of the immune markers found in breastfed and 2'-FL formula-fed babies were nearly identical.

“By harnessing 2’-FL HMO, we can help support a baby's immune system by closing multiple gaps in immune function between formula-fed and breastfed babies,” Buck says. “We are excited to see what we can do with this important ingredient in the future and how it can help us set babies up for a lifetime of good nutrition and health.”

*not from human milk

Understanding HMOs

Human Milk Ogliosacharides
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