What we do
The overall aim of my research is to identify novel, evolutionarily relevant bioactive compounds in human and bovine milk and the extent to which they survive throughout the digestive system. In particular, I am interested in bioactive milk proteins and fragments of proteins—peptides—released within the mammary gland and during digestion. Milk peptides have an array of known functions, including antimicrobial and immunomodulatory actions that are relevant to infant health. We are examining the peptides present in milk and those released during digestion via mass spectrometry-based peptidomics and in vitro functional assays. I’m also particularly interested in improving health outcomes for preterm infants. Our work demonstrates that preterm infants have lower ability to digest milk protein compared with term infants. We are now examining whether digestive differences lead to different bioactive peptide release in the gut of preterm and term infants. Difference in digestive capacity may mean that premature infants are not receiving the full health benefits of milk. Beyond peptides, our lab also examines the digestion of milk proteins, particularly immunoglobulins (antibodies) using proteomics, ELISA and functional assays. Moreover, our lab has developed techniques to detect glycoproteins and glycopeptides across digestion. In addition to our work with infants, we are now examining the digestion of dairy proteins in adults. We are currently examining digestion of glycomacropeptide (a peptide in whey protein) and the extent to which it retains its immunomodulatory and antibacterial actions in the gastrointestinal tract.