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UC San Diego Studies Look Into Breast Milk's Effects on COVID-19 for Infants

APR 01, 2020 | RACHEL LUTZ
Investigators from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine want to examine the effect of breast milk in transmitting or offering a protective effect in 2 new studies, according to a press release.

The first study will be conducted in collaboration between the school and the Family Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation (FLRF), which is donating $100,000 in order to streamline the process of assisting investigators at the Mother-Milk Infant Center of Research Excellence (MOMI CORE), the statement added.

“We have been establishing top-level research resources around the world over the past five years, and now, with that infrastructure in place, we and our research partners are better prepared to respond to emergency situations in an agile manner,” Göran Larsson, chairman of the FLRF Board, added in the press release. “We are proud to support MOMI CORE's work, and hope others can do the same.”

The investigators will examine 2 main questions: Is COVID-19, the infection caused by the novel coronavirus, transmitted via human milk? Can breast milk protect infants from COVID-19?

As for the latter, studies have shown that breast milk can provide infants with protective effects against diseases like diarrhea and pulmonary infections.

“We urgently need to determine whether or not the virus is found in breast milk and discover breast milk components with antiviral properties that could protect infants from COVID-19,” Lars Bode, PhD, principal investigator and director of FLRF MOMI CORE, added in the statement. He said the donation will help the team “mobilize immediately.”

With only limited data currently available, the team hopes to determine a way to stop the pandemic. MOMI CORE will utilize a team of virologists and infectious disease specialists to screen breast milk for any potential antiviral properties.

The second observational study will combine the efforts of UC San Diego and the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS), an agency that provides information about the safety of medications and other exposures during pregnancy and breastfeeding through its MotherToBaby service, the statement continued.

The investigators of the second study will recruit pregnant women living in the United States or Canada and conduct phone interviews over the course of their pregnancy and postpartum period. The women will be asked to share relevant medical records and then the investigators will analyze the data looking for outcomes for both mother and child. The follow-up period for the mother and child is expected to be one year. The investigators will be looking at the infant’s growth and development via the child’s pediatrician.

“Women and their health care providers need answers as quickly as possible regarding the effects of COVID-19 during pregnancy and while breastfeeding,” Christina Chambers, PhD, MPH, principal investigator, professor in the Department of Pediatrics at UC San Diego School of Medicine and director of OTIS, said in the statement. “We know that pregnant and breastfeeding moms are contracting COVID-19, but the fact of the matter is that we know very little about its short- and long-term effects on a developing baby.”

Research on an infection such as seasonal influenza has shown that pregnant women are at higher risk than those who are not pregnant for complications from the infection. Additionally, high fever in pregnancy can pose a risk for a developing fetus, Chambers continued, so women should discuss treatment options with their health care provider.

These pregnant women will also be asked to participate in UC San Diego’s Human Milk Biorepository, another study that looks at breast milk.

“We hope pregnant and breastfeeding women see the importance in helping the world understand this novel virus and consider volunteering for the study. There is much to be learned in a short period of time that can help women who are currently or may become pregnant or breastfeed,” Chambers concluded.

The press release also included information about joining the study, which can be found at mothertobaby.org/join-study or by calling MotherToBaby at 877-311-8972.
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