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From Beakers to Breakthroughs Milk Reveals Its Secrets

The breaking news out of Australia was all about milk. “Unlocking milk’s formula could save lives say scientists” from Monash University.

The opportunities that could (grow) from this study include:

  • New formulas for premature babies
  • Weight loss drinks
  • New drug delivery systems

This ground breaking research was published in the journal ACS Nano, the Monash University For the first time the research goes well beyond the known nutritional values of milk and provides detailed insights into the structure of milk during digestion. This study delves into the detailed structure of milk and how its fats interact with the digestive system.

Research Reveals Interaction of Milk and Digestion

This unique approach to the study of the makeup of milk was funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC). Dr Stefan Salentinig and Professor Ben Boyd from the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS) led the team that looked at the nanostructure of milk to find out how its components interact with the human digestive system. Their findings are detailed in the article published in 2013:  Formation of Highly Organized Nanostructures during the Digestion of Milk. The Australian team discovered milk has a highly geometrically ordered structure when being digested. Dr Salentinig said the research provides a blueprint for the development of new milk products. It could also lead to a new system for drug delivery. “By unlocking the detailed structure of milk we have the potential to create milk loaded with fat soluble vitamins and brain building molecules for premature babies, or a drink that slows digestion so people feel fuller for longer. We could even harness milk’s ability as a ‘carrier’ to develop new forms of drug delivery.”

Breakthrough Research is Needed for Dairy Development

The dairy industry urgently requires this kind of breakthrough science that has the potential to improve global health and cure disease. It is easy from the day to day side of milk production to keep scientific research at arm’s length forgetting that it moves the dairy industry forward.The Monash research team recreated the characteristics of the digestive system in a glass beaker. They then added cows’ milk.  They found that “an emulsion of fats, nutrients and water forms a structure which enhances digestion. The breakthrough made by Monash University team was the discovery that milk has a “unique structure” during digestion, which they have described as “similar to a sponge.” In simple terms Salentinig summarizes”We found that when the body starts the digestion process, an enzyme called lipase breaks down the fat molecules to form a highly geometrically ordered structure. These small and highly organized components enable fats, vitamins and lipid-soluble drugs to cross cell membranes and get into the circulatory system.” 

Specialist Instruments Simulate Digestion

The progress in science gains further impetus from the astonishing progress in recent years in medical technology. Collaborations among physical scientists, engineers, and doctors have given us CAT scans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and a wide variety of therapeutic devices.  This was also part of the work in Australia. As well as laboratory work at MIPS, the researchers accessed specialist instruments at the Australian Synchrotron to simulate digestion and accelerate the research. Using enzymes present in the body, water was added to milk fat to break it down, and the Synchrotron’s small angle X-ray scattering beam showed that when digested, the by-products of milk become highly organised. Dr Salentinig said the structure is similar to a sponge, potentially enhancing the absorption of milk’s healthy fats. He further elaborates “We knew about the building blocks of milk and that milk fat has significant influence on the flavor, texture and nutritional value of all dairy food. But what we didn’t know was the structural arrangement of this fat during digestion,” The possibilities promise exciting results. “We could even harness milk’s ability as a ‘carrier’ to develop new forms of drug delivery.”

A Post Genomics Revolution

The dairy world has been changed by the genomics revolution and the practical benefits are more evident all the time. It is important to recognize how strong science provides practical benefits to the dairy industry. However, that strong science cannot exist without support.  It is especially important not to neglect fundamental research. It is from this curiosity-driven, disciplinary research that projects such as the one from Monash can contribute to understanding and real progress for the dairy industry. We need research to lead the way to advances in detection, diagnosis and treatment of dairy diseases and even ways to advance human health prevention, diagnosis and treatment.  Although it is unlikely that science and technology will solve all the problems, it is equally unlikely that they will be solved without research.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

With regards to milk, the next phase of the research studies at Monash University includes working with nutritionists to make stronger links between these new findings and dietary outcomes. Ultimately the plan is to utilize these findings to design and test improved medicines.  The Australian researchers have the vision, commitment, and most importantly, the funding. It only proves that Mother was right, “Don’t cry over spilled milk!”  Instead, we should applaud, encourage and support dairy research, wherever we are.



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