New breakthrough in infant formula study, scientists from Chung Cheng University developed method for facile fucosylated human milk oligosaccharide synthesis
Everyone would reckon that children who drink breastmilk are healthier, but probably not aware of that the oligosaccharides contained in the breastmilk are the key players in the health of the baby\'s gastrointestinal tract. Dr. Ching-Ching Yu, an associate professor of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry from Chung Cheng University (CCU) who has been studying human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) for many years, recently has developed a synthetic method to rapidly produce up to 22 natural HMOs, including the fucosylated milk oligosaccharide which can help alleviate infant diarrhea. This major breakthrough has been published in a top international journal in March this year. In the future, the CCU team will move on to the mass production research and expect the findings to be commercially added into infant formula as effective breast milk substitutes. Such a breakthrough will also benefit the research on domestic pediatric and gastrointestinal medicine.
These HMOs in the breast milk stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria and at the same time inhibit the bad bacteria in the gastrointestinal system and that is why the breast milk can protect the intestinal health of infants and young children. HMOs mainly exist in breast milk and are difficult to obtain from other natural food resources. \"Current studies have shown that there are nearly 200 HMOs found by the scientists, among them, the most common HMO, the fucosylated milk oligosaccharide, which have been proven to have the ability to prevent the infection of Campylobacter jejuni, stopping children from having Diarrhea.” Revealed by Professor Yu. However, many women often face the problems ranging from insufficient breast milk to other health complications and cannot do breastfeeding to their children. Yu further mentioned that in recent years, though European countries and the United States have already approved two synthetic HMOs as important ingredients to be used in infant formula, similar or related researches on HMO synthesis remain hard to be seen in Taiwan.
The CCU team has discovered that enzymes can help synthesize milk oligosaccharides and successfully produced 22 types of milk oligosaccharides with the same structure of the natural ones. Professor Yu stated that different enzymes have different preference when working with specific chemical molecules. When the particular type of oligosaccharides that has two or more identical molecules in its chemical structure, it becomes harder to control the enzyme reaction to produce specific milk oligosaccharides. \"So we implant extra purified and smaller molecule onto the structure of the oligosaccharides so that the enzyme would not react to the tagged area without affecting the overall catalytic action.\"
Oligosaccharides are the carbohydrates composed of more than 3 monosaccharides. When a milk oligosaccharide contains more monosaccharides with in the structure, it is not conducive to the production of traditional microbial fermentation methods. At the moment, the CCU team\'s technology can synthesize different milk oligosaccharides that contain up to 12 monosaccharides in their constitution. These synthetic milk oligosaccharides are able to be applied as research materials in basic glycobiology, pediatric medicine, gastrointestinal medicine, immunology and other research areas. Its mass production research is currently on the way to realize the findings. Professor Yu disclosed that in some countries, fucosylated milk oligosaccharides composed of more than 6 monosaccharides are sold at a market price for nearly US$2,000 per milligram. In the future, CCU will take every cooperation opportunity into consideration with interested parties or Taiwanese manufacturers to optimize its market potential. The scientific achievements are expected to be added into the commercialized formula milk powder, in order to have the infant formulas effectively become the ideal substitutes for the breast milk in local markets to reduce the production cost followed by the milk power dependence on imported products.
After seeing the global COVID-19 pandemic raging in the past two years, Professor Yu explained that milk oligosaccharides have many parts in their structures functionally similar to the receptors on the surfaces of different viruses, which can be used as decoy receptors to trap pathogens effectively preventing the hazardous infections. Therefore, the oligosaccharides synthesized by the CCU team can also be further developed later to explore the relationship between milk oligosaccharides and varies pathogens, to help accelerate the research of early diagnosis or treatment against the infectious pathogen or virus diseases.
Having taught in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at CCU for more than 5 years, Professor Yu is dedicated to developing methods for the synthesis of milk oligosaccharides. To date, the research team and the laboratory led by Yu is still one of the very few scientific units specializing on carbohydrate enzyme synthesis in Taiwan. Their research findings on facile fucosylated human milk oligosaccharide synthesis has been published in the top international organic chemistry and catalysis journal \"ACS Catalysis\" in March this year.