Meet the six newest Trainee Expansion Program (TEP) grant awardees

Trainee Bridge Fund (TBF), award USD 100,000

Miranda Loutet, MSc, PhD Candidate

Trainee Travel Fund (TTF), awards up to USD 10,000 each

Laasya Devi Annepureddy, PhD Student

Michelle Asbury, MSc, PhD, Postdoctoral Associate

Maheshwar Bhasin, PhD Candidate

Dr. Michael A. Pitino, PhD, MSc, Postdoctoral Scholar

Dr. Brock Williams, PhD, MSc, RD

These talented and outstanding early career academics will be furthering their exciting and important research in the field of human milk and lactation with their TEP grants. Please join us and the International Society for Research in Human Milk and Lactation in congratulating them!

Read on for details about their projects, the universities they will travel to and the esteemed mentors they will work with. Each awardee is truly inspirational.

240130 TEP Grant Receipients 2023

Trainee Bridge Fund (TBF) Awardee

Miranda Loutet, MSc, PhD Candidate, Epidemiology Division, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto / Hospital for Sick Children

Project: ‘In-Facility Lactation and Feeding Support in Low-Resource Settings to Increase Survival Among Small Vulnerable Newborns: Evaluation of a Pilot Study to Implement a Feeding Support Package in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs) in Tanzania, Malawi and India-Uttar Pradesh’

Embedded within the ‘Low Birthweight and Preterm Infant Feeding Trial and Supportive Care Package (LIFT-UP)’ study, Miranda will evaluate the pilot study to estimate the effectiveness, feasibility and acceptability of implementing a co-designed, in-facility package to support lactation, feeding, kangaroo mother care, and WASH among low birthweight or preterm infants admitted to the NICU and their mothers in Tanzania, Malawi and India-Uttar Pradesh.

Through being involved in a large consortium, multi-country implementation science project, Miranda will learn skills to fill the gap between policy and deployment and findings from the pilot will inform ideal delivery of the intervention into clinical workflow.

Miranda said: “During my TEP-funded project I aim to gain technical skills to transform evidence into practice, deepen my scientific knowledge, and grow my multidisciplinary international research network to support my career goal of becoming an independent investigator and professor in global maternal and newborn health.”

Miranda will travel to and conduct her research at Ariadne Labs, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, under the primary mentorship of Dr. Katherine Semrau, PhD, MPH, Director of the BetterBirth Program at Ariadne Labs, and the secondary mentorship of Dr. Linda Vesel, PhD, MPH.

Trainee Travel Fund (TTF) Awardees

Laasya Devi Annepureddy, PhD Student, Dartmouth College

Project: ‘Understanding the Impact of Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMOs) on Adipocyte Function’

HMOs are the third largest component of human milk which are associated with growth and metabolic outcomes in infants. However, the effect of HMOs on infant metabolism is poorly understood and understudied.

Studying the effect of HMOs on adipocytes is important for gaining insights into their potential roles in early development, metabolic homeostasis, and immune modulation. Animal models cannot fully mimic HMO effects as they are metabolized and digested differently in humans, emphasizing the need for in-vitro models. This research will close this gap and enhance our understanding of components in human milk and their implications in metabolic disorders.

Laasya will travel to and conduct her TTF project at the University of California San Diego, under the mentorship of Dr. Lars Bode, PhD, Professor of Pediatrics 

Michelle Asbury, MSc, PhD, Postdoctoral Associate, Departments of Physiology & Pharmacology and Pediatrics, University of Calgary

Project: ‘Systems-Level Repertoire of Human Milk Components as Drivers of Microbial and Immune Development in Preterm Infants’

Michelle’s research broadly focuses on the nutritional and immune components of human milk and how they shape the developing microbiome and immune system of preterm infants. Using a longitudinal preterm cohort (BLOOM study) of ~400 mother-infant dyads, Michelle will integrate multi-omic (proteomic, lipidomic, metabolomic, and glycomic) human milk data and construct a novel computational tool, called “nutrient trees”, to apply systems biology methods to human milk during her TTF award tenure. She hopes this computational tool will enable researchers in the field to deeply characterize the complexity and inter-relatedness of human milk components and their role in shaping infant development.

Michelle will travel to and conduct her TTF project at the University of Minnesota, under the mentorship of Dr. Abigail Johnson, PhD, RD, Assistant Professor.

Maheshwar Bhasin, PhD Candidate, Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation Centre for Immunology and Breastfeeding, The University of Western Australia

Project: ‘Neurodevelopmental Impact of Non-Exclusive Colostrum Feeding (NECF) in Infants within First Year of Life’

Maheshwar’s doctoral project aims to investigate the impact of NECF on childhood health, particularly allergies, growth, infections, and neurodevelopment.

Colostrum are tiny drops of milk (containing numerous beneficial compounds) produced in the first three days after birth. Across the globe, one in every three infants receives formula supplementations, potentially missing out on the vital benefits of colostrum. During the exchange to LRF NGN, Maheshwar will explore how this practice of NECF might influence a baby’s neurodevelopment aspect by analysing the Ages and Stages Questionnaire data collected in the Western Australia’s ORIGINS cohort.

Understanding the impact of NECF would provide evidence to support exclusive breastfeeding in early days and pave a path for long-term strategies to support for infants who would be NECF.

Maheshwar will travel to and conduct his TTF project at the Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation Center for Neurodevelopment, Growth and Nutrition of the Newborn (LRF NGN), University Hospital Zurich, Switzerland, under the mentorship of Prof. Dr. med. Giancarlo Natalucci.

Dr. Michael A. Pitino,
PhD, MSc, Postdoctoral Scholar, Oregon State University

Project: ‘Characterizing the Cellular Response of Neonatal Enteroids to Simulated Infant Digesta from Donor Human Milk Treated by High-Pressure Processing Versus Holder Pasteurization’

Michael’s research interests are broadly focused on optimizing the nutritional quality and functionality of bioactive proteins in donor human milk and delineating the downstream impact of processing on infant nutrient digestion, and gut physiology. He is currently examining how high-pressure processing, a novel milk processing technique, impacts intact protein digestion and the release of bioactive peptides using highly sensitive mass spectrometry-based proteomic tools.

Leveraging the skills he plans to gain in culturing infant-derived enteroids (intestinal organoids), Michael will ultimately study the cellular response of the infant gut epithelium (i.e., cell morphology, markers of inflammation, and epithelial barrier function) to processed human milk digested using a dynamic in vitro system simulating preterm infant gut physiology. 

Michael will travel to and conduct his TTF project at Oregon Health and Science University, under the mentorship of Dr. Sarah Andres, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

Dr. Brock Williams, PhD, MSc, RD; Research Fellow, University of British Columbia

Project: ‘Determining the Presence and Functional Capacity of Dietary Food Allergens in Human Milk’

There are significant gaps in our understanding of how food allergens in human milk contribute to the development of tolerance or sensitization to dietary allergens during early childhood. Brock aims to perform and develop assays for the detection of common dietary food allergens in human milk, as well as determining their functional capacity. These skills will allow Brock to assess the associations between maternal diet and lifestyle, and the transfer of dietary food allergens into human milk in two distinct cohorts.

Brock will travel to and conduct his TTF project at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, under the mentorship of Professor Kirsi Järvinen-Seppo, MD, PhD, Professor and Chief of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology.

The Trainee Expansion Program (TEP)

TEP is an international professional development initiative, offering two types of merit-based grants annually to academics seeking to enter or advance their career in human milk and lactation.

Trainee Bridge Fund grants – up to USD 100,000 over approximately 12 months to support a research project that will bring recipients collaboration and networking opportunities and lead to an independent position

Trainee Travel Fund grants – up to USD 10,000 over a period of two weeks to three months so recipients can gain a new skill or acquire experience in a different setting

TEP 1.0 launched in 2016, awarding USD 1.25 million in over 30 grants. It was such a success, ISRHML and FLRF launched TEP 2.0 in 2021 – offering another USD 1.25 million in grants over another five years.  

Learn about prior TEP grant recipients and their projects in the TEP Hall of Fame (PDF).

Would you like to apply for a TEP grant in 2024?

It is never too soon to start planning – applications open 1 August 2024! Watch the TEP website for details.

About the International Society for Research in Human Milk and Lactation (ISRHML)

ISRHML is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of excellence in research and the dissemination of research findings in the field of human milk and lactation. These objectives are met through a biennial international meeting, annual symposia and mini symposia, awarding of trainee expansion grants, awards recognizing significant contributions to the field by established researchers, and communication among members and established liaisons with government agencies, public health authorities, industry, and other organizations interested in human lactation.

ISRHML website