HOBI Faculty Member Receives SECIM Grant to Study How Breast Milk Protects Against Child Obesity

Dominick LemasDominick Lemas, Ph.D., received a pilot and feasibility grant from the University of Florida’s Southeast Center for Integrated Metabolomics (SECIM) to study how human milk protects against childhood obesity.

Lemas’ research involves studying the interactions of components in human milk with the intestinal microbiomes of exclusively breastfed infants during their first year of life.

The human microbiome refers to the trillions of microscopic organisms that reside in the gut and elsewhere in the body, according to Lemas, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Outcomes and Biomedical Informatics. Not only do these microorganisms help us digest our food. They also play an essential role in our health and development, helping to protect against allergies and other diseases.

At birth, newborns acquire microbes from their mothers and the environment. After birth, the microbes continue to thrive based on a variety of factors, including the food we ingest.

“Researchers have already demonstrated that exclusive breastfeeding is associated with protection against obesity during childhood,” said Lemas, “However, we don’t have a good understanding of how the components of human milk may be interacting with the infant’s microbiome to provide this protection.”

Over the last 30 years, pediatric obesity has more than doubled, and obesity in teens has more than tripled. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18.5 percent of children and 20.6 percent of teens in the United States have obesity.

Common causes include genetic makeup, lack of physical activity and poor dietary habits, but researchers now are investigating a variety of other factors that may contribute to the problem, including the role of the human microbiome.

The SECIM, part of UF’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, offers funding opportunities and services for researchers in biomedical and biological sciences, including the use of mass spectrometry, nuclear magnetic resonance and other state-of-the-art technologies to identify and study metabolic microorganisms. The SECIM awarded a total of eight pilot and feasibility grants this year.