Faculty of Science

Unique components of human milk

Our overarching research goal is to understand the biochemical components of human milk that ultimately influence the programming of the infant in the short and long term.

  1. Summary of the project
  2. Eligibility criteria
  3. Readings
  4. Contact the research team leader
  5. How to apply
  6. Scholarships

Summary of the project

Human milk is a heterogeneous fluid that contains numerous nutritional and bioactive components. In the past, we identified protein, lactose, sodium and citrate in human milk as the biomarkers for the stage of lactation as well as pathologies such as mastitis.

In addition, we have used the fat content in human milk combined with infant test weighing to establish the fullness of the lactating breast and thereby estimate the volume of milk contained within the breast. The use of milk components as biomarkers provides a non-invasive and objective measure to understand milk synthesis, milk removal and supports the exploration of the health of both the breast and milk.

Building our knowledge in this area will allow the development both diagnostic tests and evidence-based interventions that have a greater chance of improving both maternal and infant health on a global scale.

Our research group is continuously seeking to redefine and develop analytical methodologies not only to discover new components of human milk but to advance the scientific accuracy of human milk analysis.

Trace metals and synthetic contaminates in human milk

Although the majority of milk components are synthesized in the lactocyte, trace metals and synthetic contaminants are likely transferred into milk via the maternal bloodstream.

These components have the potential to greatly influence the growth and development of infants.

This study is aimed at determining the levels of trace metals and synthetic contaminants in a historical cohort of milk samples collected from lactating mothers in Perth, Western Australia, over the past 10 years. 

This project will explore the influences of rapid growth of the local population and dramatic changes in nutrition and lifestyle over the past 10 years on these milk components.

Appetite hormones in human milk

During lactation, the breastfed infant drives milk production in that milk supply meets the infant's demand.

The demand fed infant feeds to appetite thus exhibiting different growth patterns to the formula fed infant. However, the regulatory mechanisms of breastfeed infants are not well understood.

Appetite hormones, such as leptin and gherlin are present in human milk and are believed to participate in the programming of appetite as well as having multiple roles for the infant. Thus this study aims to comprehensively characterise appetite hormones in breast milk across lactation and investigate their relationship to breastfeeding behaviour. Further the association of these hormones with infant body composition will be explored.

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Eligibility criteria

General UWA PhD entrance requirements can be found on the Future Students website.

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Contact the research team leader

Once you have ensured that you meet the eligibility criteria and are ready to discuss a proposal, contact the research team leader to identify a potential supervisor.
Research team leader: Dr Donna Geddes
I am the Senior Research Fellow directing the Human Lactation Research Group. I have a deep interest in understanding the mechanisms by which human milk and breastfeeding confer their benefits to infants. The long-term benefits of breastfeeding (for example decreased obesity, diabetes) suggest lactation plays a major role in programming the health of infants. Increasing knowledge of this programming phenomenon allows us to develop strategies that will enhance health when lactation issues occur.

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How to apply

After you have discussed your project with the research team leader you should be in a position to proceed to step two of the UWA application process: 'Lodge an application'.

Different procedures apply to domestic and international students.

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Domestic students

All domestic students may apply for Research Training Program and University Postgraduate Awards (UPA) scholarships.

The Australian Government's Endeavour Awards and Scholarships are available to Australian applicants for study in participating countries and regions.

International students

A range of scholarships are available from international organisations and governments. The full list, organised by country, is available on the Future Students website.

In addition, all international students may apply for International Research Training Program scholarships.

The Australian Government's Endeavour Awards and Scholarships are available to international applicants from participating countries and regions.

Indigenous students

Indigenous students are encouraged to apply for Indigenous Postgraduate Research Supplementary Scholarships.

Forrest Foundation scholarships

All international and Australian students who wish to study towards the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) at The University of Western Australia may apply for Forrest Scholarships.

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