Endocrinology of Human Lactation

2022 University Of Oxford FLRF

The University of Oxford and FLRF jointly established the Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation Oxford Centre for the Endocrinology of Human Lactation (LRF OCEHL) in 2018 to investigate the hormones and chemicals that regulate cells and organs mediating the production of breastmilk.

Located at the Women’s Centre, John Radcliffe Hospital (of the Nuffield Department of Women’s & Reproductive Health University of Oxford) and directed by Professor Fadil Hannan, the LRF OCEHL permanent research hub is pursuing:

  • Scientific advancement, by contributing cutting-edge scientific research on the molecular determinants of successful human milk production;
  • Academic collaboration, by establishing strong collaborations with leading global institutions, utilizing large scale bio-repositories and contributing to this growing field of study; and
  • Public engagement, by appealing to and engaging with external public communities, particularly pregnant and new mothers potentially participating in the clinical studies.

The initial portfolio of basic science and clinical studies at LRF OCEHL includes:

NECTAR – exploring the suitability of laboratory methods to measure different breastmilk hormones that may be passed to breastfeeding infants and that could play a role in their health and wellbeing.

INSIGHT – aims to explore the levels of hormones such as prolactin and progesterone required to stimulate early milk production, to advance understanding about delayed or limited milk production.

LRF OCEHL is planning additional studies to investigate hormonal mechanisms in breastfeeding, both in the UK and in collaboration with international partners. Focus areas span:

  • Endocrinology of the lactation cycle and impact of diseases like obesity or malnutrition on lactation hormones.
  • Molecular crosstalk between tissues involved in lactation – i.e., communications between tissues such as the pituitary, breast and bone that mediate milk synthesis and secretion.
  • Endocrine communication between mother and child during lactation, by characterizing hormones in breastmilk, with the establishment of a milk bank and breastmilk donations from lactating mothers.
  • Lactation-related health outcomes in mother and child via assessment of hormonal changes during lactation

The work of the center will translate into benefits for health and development by generating knowledge on the role of hormones during lactation and their influence on stunting, wasting, obesity and maternal health.

Research outcomes can be used to provide a foundation for breakthrough therapies and interventions to support breastfeeding and ultimately contribute to SDGs 2 and 3:

FLRF donated approximately GBP 2.9 million to establish LRF OCEHL – read the press release.

Hannan FM, Elajnaf T, Vandenberg LN, Kennedy SH, Thakker RV. Hormonal regulation of mammary gland development and lactation. Nat Rev Endocrinol [Internet]. 2022;1-16. DOI: 10.1038/s41574-022-00742-y 

Rostom H, Meng X, Price H, Fry A, Elajnaf T, Humphrey R, et al. Protocol for an observational study investigating hormones triggering the onset of sustained lactation: the INSIGHT study. BMJ Open. 2022;12(8):e062478. DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2022-062478

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