UCSD researchers find carbohydrates unique to human milk in amniotic fluid

SAN DIEGO — UC San Diego researchers announced Tuesday they discovered a complex carbohydrate unique to human milk in amniotic fluid.

Oligosaccharides are complex carbohydrates found exclusively in human milk and offer immediate and long-term benefits to infants who consume human milk in the months after birth. Prior research found oligosaccharides present in a woman’s urine and blood during pregnancy as early as the first trimester. The new study by researchers from the UCSD School of Medicine, published in the journal Frontiers in Pediatrics-Neonatology, is the first to find oligosaccharides in amniotic fluid, according to the university.

“So far, research around human milk oligosaccharides has focused on the breast-fed infant, but our latest discovery suggests that the benefits of HMOs may begin much earlier and affect the growing fetus,” said Dr. Lars Bode, an associate professor of pediatrics at the UCSD School of Medicine.

Oligosaccharides help shape and protect an infant’s intestinal tract, according to the researchers, and could contribute to lowering the risk of health issues like intestinal infections and other diseases like asthma and obesity later in life.

UCSD researchers took a sample of 48 pregnant women and studied their urine and amniotic fluid at the time of delivery and their milk four days after delivery.

They said the new data necessitates additional study of the ways in which oligosaccharides affect the health of the mother and infant throughout the course of their lives.

“HMOs could also potentially be involved in prenatal lung or brain development,” Bode said. “We don’t know yet how early during pregnancy HMOs appear in the amniotic fluid, but imagine if we could screen HMOs in amniotic fluid as a marker for pre-term delivery risk.”