"Game-changing" BBy tech keeps essential nutrients in powdered breast milk
While many studies show that natural human breast milk is the best food for babies, storing the stuff in a frozen state has its drawbacks. That's where a new laser-enabled system comes in, which allows the milk to be powdered without any loss in nutrients.
Nursing mothers will often pump and store breast milk so it can be fed to their infant when they're not around – such as when the baby is in a hospital's neonatal care unit, for instance. They may also donate excess milk for consumption by babies who are orphaned, or whose mothers are unable to produce milk of their own.
Ordinarily, the pumped milk is stored in a freezer. In a hospital setting, this means that staff have to take the time to thaw the milk for each feeding. Additionally, the freezers take up space and use a lot of electricity, plus clinics in impoverished regions may not even have freezers in the first place.
Needless to say, powdered breast milk can be stored at room temperature and occupies a lot less space than its liquid equivalent. Unfortunately, though, it loses much of its nutritional and immunological value when powdered by conventional means. The new system, developed by US startup BBy, is designed to address that shortcoming.
Invented by doctors Vansh Langer and Blanca Rosa Aguilar Uscanga, it incorporates a special laser that is added to a commercial condenser. That laser continuously monitors the weight, temperature and flow rate of the milk as it's being sent into a vacuum within the setup.
By constantly adjusting these variables as needed, it's reportedly possible to keep the milk in its "bioactive retention zone." The resulting shelf-stabilized powder, which can be kept at room temperature for up to six months, is claimed to retain all of the original milk's nutritional and immunological properties. It's stored in aluminum packets, and simply gets mixed with water for each feeding.
As part of a small-scale pilot project, the BBy system is currently being utilized to produce powdered breast milk at eight regional facilities in the US, which are supplying a total of 17 hospitals. Frozen donated milk is picked up at each hospital once every two weeks, then processed at the closest facility and returned to the hospital in powdered form. Each facility processes 20 gallons (76 l) of milk per day.
"This technology is a game changer for hospitals," said Dr. Uscanga. "Clinical data confirms that the nutrition for these infants is every bit as good and as easy to digest as breast milk that has never been condensed."