MOSCOW — A University of Idaho study plans a new approach to mastitis, a major human and animal disease problem that causes discomfort for breastfeeding mothers and damages dairy industry productivity.
The bacterial-related disease frustrates mothers who want to provide the best nutrition for their babies and causes millions in annual financial losses for dairies. Mastitis is an inflammation of the mammary gland.
The new study will look more closely at those bacterial communities in milk from healthy and unhealthy women and cows.
For the most part, bacteria perform useful functions in the body, including helping with digestion and producing molecules to support immune function. Consumers readily show their support for a healthy balance of bacteria by spending millions on foods and supplements known as probiotics.
UI nutritionist Michelle “Shelley” McGuire and lactation physiologist and dairy researcher Mark McGuire will co-lead a $2.4 million project funded by the National Institutes of Health to explore the cause of mastitis in women and cows.
Shelley McGuire is the newly hired director and professor in the UI’s Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences. Mark McGuire is a professor in the Department of Animal and Veterinary Science and director of the Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station in Moscow. The McGuires are married and have collaborated on similar projects for over two decades.
The McGuires and colleagues in the five-year project funded by the NIH want to know how changes in the community of bacteria normally found in milk affect mastitis. The project will explore how the presence and function of bacteria in the mammary gland changes during the first six weeks after birth and how those changes affect whether mastitis develops.
Mark McGuire began working on mastitis as part of an NIH-funded project at the UI in 2005. Shelley McGuire began her focus on the nutritional qualities of human milk about the same time and a short time later became interested in mastitis.
The McGuires collaborated with UI doctoral student Katherine Hunt on a novel study of both beneficial and disease-causing bacteria in milk. That study showed some bacteria in human milk played no clear role in the mother’s or baby’s health.
It became an important step in learning more about milk’s place in the human microbiome, which refers to the universe of bacteria found in human bodies. Scientists say there are more bacteria in our bodies than our own cells.
The growing ability to gather and analyze huge amounts of genetic data will help show the microbial communities in detail. The team will work with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to identify those communities and what they are doing. The UI’s expertise in analyzing molecular data and its expertise in dairy research make the study possible, Shelley McGuire said.
The research team is asking women who plan to have a baby in the next year and who exclusively breastfeed for at least six weeks to contact Shelley McGuire at email@example.com for more information about participating the study.
The UI researchers now believe the presence of various bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus is not the only factor responsible for mastitis. Rather, they say an imbalance in the mix of microbes, which normally includes the Staph species, found in mammary glands is responsible.
Alternatively, it might be what compounds the microbes produce. The study will explore whether antibiotic use – the traditional medical approach to mastitis – sets up women and cows for a higher risk of mastitis. Or it may be a genetic or environmental issue that leads to the disease, the researchers said.