HUMAN MILK RESEARCH
Our mission is to make human milk the standard of care for premature and sick infants by increasing access to donor milk.
Dr. Veronique Demers-Mathieu, PhD
Expertise in Neonatal Immunology and Microbiology
Senior Research Scientist at Medolac Laboratories
Human milk research focus
The overall aim of Dr. Demers’s research is to improve the immunity and growth development of premature infants. Her long-term goal is to identify the function of human milk immune components to protect against infection and pediatric diseases in premature infants. Specifically, she has the expertise to characterize maternal antibodies and bioactive proteins (lactoferrins and cytokines) to develop new feeding supplements with active immune components. In addition to supplements, she is investigating the origin of staphylococcal enterotoxins and bacillus cereus spores in breast milk. With her expertise in immunology, she is developing new ELISAs to detect drugs in breast milk.
Veronique Demers-Mathieu biography
Dr. Demers is the Senior Research Scientist in her analytical lab at Medolac Laboratories. Besides her research on immune components from human milk, she makes sure that all raw breast milk samples are safe and high quality before they are incorporated into pooled donor milk. This provides our outstanding shelf-stable human milk products for preterm infants. Via an internship program at Medolac Laboratories, Dr. Demers is mentoring students from the Life Sciences department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Moreover, she is doing her second postdoctoral training under Dr. David Sela in Microbiology and Physiological Systems at University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Dr. Demers completed 3-years of postdoctoral research training in Nutritional Immunology under Dr. David Dallas in the School of Biological and Population Health Sciences at Oregon State University (OSU). Previously, she earned her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Molecular Biology under Dr. Daniel St-Gelais and Dr. Ismail Fliss at Université Laval. She did her master’s in Food Science and Biochemistry under Dr. Sylvie Gauthier and Dr. Michel Britten.
Current human milk research projects
Maternal background effect on the concentration of lactoferrin and secretory IgA in human milk
Optimal parameters to reduce the risk of Staphylococcal enterotoxins in human milk
Development of new ELISAs to detect Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli 0157:H7, Bacillus cereus and Candida Albicans in human milk
Development of new ELISAs to detect drug user in women who donate human milk
Internship Program with UNLV
The objective of the present internship program is to provide mentorship to generate professional skills and workplace experience as well as to expose science majors to academic and non-academic careers. We train interns how to perform microbial testing on donor milk samples. Students learn how to create their own ELISAs to verify the presence of Staphylococcal toxins, Shiga toxins and drugs that can be present in donor milk and harmful for preterm infants. Students also learn to determine the concentration in secretory IgA and lactoferrin, which are important breast milk immune components. They learn how to analyze data, write a manuscript and present their results. We provide industry/company mentorship to students that provides them with job experience and professional skills. We are excited to contribute to the training of young scientists studying at UNLV to support their employment in the science sector.
Dr. Demers is passionate about sharing her knowledge in neonatal immunology to propel students towards a career in research. We are situated in Boulder City at 30 min from UNLV, therefore, UNLV students are able to work at Medolac Laboratories and continue their undergrad studies.
V Demers Lab at Medolac offers breast milk characterization for mothers who are interested to know more about their concentration in bioactive immune components (SIgA and lactoferrin).
Why are SIgA and lactoferrin important immune components in breast milk?
Human milk SIgA is thought to be the most important in the infant gut as it neutralizes bacterial and viral pathogens by binding to them, thus reducing their ability to interact with epithelial cells and infect.
The presence of SIgA in human milk temporarily replaces the normal intestinal SIgA secretion that is lacking in the infant until 4 weeks of postnatal age 2 Lactoferrin has antimicrobial and immunomodulatory functions and play a major role in protecting the newborn infant from infection and contributing to the maturation of the newborn innate and adaptive immune systems. Lactoferrin supplementation could prevent sepsis and necrotizing enterocolitis in newborn infants.
Melis, J.P.; Strumane, K.; Ruuls, S.R.; Beurskens, F.J.; Schuurman, J.; Parren, P.W. Complement in therapy and Disease: Regulating the complement system with antibody-based therapeutics. Mol. Immunol. 2015, 67, 117-130.
Bakker-Zierikzee, A.; Tol, E.; Kroes, H.; Alles, M.; Kok, F.; Bindels, J. Faecal SIgA secretion in infants fed on pre-or probiotic infant formula. Pediatr. Allergy Immunol. 2006, 17, 134–140.
Bacterial concentration in breast milk
We also offer the quantification of Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli/coliforms, total Enterobacteriacea, Bacillus cereus, total aerobic counts and yeasts/molds via gelose methods for mother’ breast milk. These bacterial measurements can be useful to know if mother’s milk is safe for their infants. Too high abundance of bacteria could be harmful for babies. High contamination of bacteria or/ and yeasts in breast milk could be due to unclear breast pumps (biofilms can be colonized by microorganisms) or mother’s infections (especially for yeasts).
Some Staphylococcus species in breast milk are not harmful and are naturally present on the skin. However, some species of Staphylococcus aureus (not all of them) can produce enterotoxins that is extremely heat-stable and is not inactivated by pasteurization. Staphylococcus aureus is most commonly linked to staphylococcal food poisoning outbreaks (Hennekinne et al., 2010). Staphylococcal enterotoxins (SEs) are pyrogenic exotoxins that cause food poisoning (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and cramps. The most common staphylococcal enterotoxins associated with food poisoning are SEA, SEB and SED (Pinchuk et al., 2010)
Pathogenic Escherichia coli
The 4 pathogenic groups have been implicated in food or waterborne illness includes enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC), enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC) and enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), and enteroinvasive E. coli (EIEC), but only ETEC and EHEC are able to produce toxins. EHEC are recognized as the primary cause of hemorrhagic colitis (HC) or bloody diarrhea (Riley, 1983). EHEC are typified by the production of verotoxin /Shiga toxins.
Bacillus cereus is an aerobic spore-forming bacterium that can induce food poisoning when it reaches >106 cfu/g. B. cereus. Only retort processing kills Bacillus cereus spores, whereas other pasteurization techniques (Holder pasteurization and Vat) cannot eliminate those spores (Capriati et al., 2019).
Yeasts and molds
Invasive fungal infections in neonates are mostly due to Candida (C. albicans & C. parapsilosis-yeasts) and Aspergillus (A. fumigatus and A. flavus-molds) organisms (Arendrup et al., 2009).