HMOs are unique carbohydrates make up about 10% of the dry weight of mother’s milk. HMOs are not easily digested, so experts postulate that their purpose is to jump-start the infant’s microbiome as prebiotics.
There are over 130 different HMOs, and 2’-FL (2’-fucosyllactose) is the most abundant. As a result, it’s the most studied, and the one that is already commercially available from a number of different suppliers, including DuPont, BASF, and Friesland Campina.
The majority of the science to date has focused on infants, with a study published in Gut (He et al., 2016, Vol. 65, pp. 33–46) by scientists from Harvard Medical School indicated that 2’-FL could reduce the inflammatory response to pathogenic bacteria.
In addition, a 2017 paper in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition (Puccio et al., Vol. 64, pp. 624–631) reported that infants fed formula with 2′-FL and lacto-N-neotetraose (LNnT), another HMO, had lower levels of bronchitis and required fewer antibiotics.
Results of a study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2016 by scientists at Abbott Nutrition found that infants fed a formula with 2’-FL had levels of inflammatory cytokines similar to those observed for breast feeding, and significantly lower than those observed for infants fed a control formula containing no 2’-FL.
Such reports have created buzz in the marketplace around HMOs and 2-‘FL in particular, and the global HMO market size is estimated to already be worth almost US$20 million, according to Grandview Research.
As the industry works to manufacture a breastmilk substitute that’s as close to nature as possible, the market is expected to expand at a CAGR of 23% during the forecast period.
Through the ages
There is also data published in the scientific literature on the potential benefits in adults, with a 2016 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition (Elison et al. Vol. 116, pp. 1356-1368) concluding: “HMO supplementation specifically modified the adult gut microbiota with the primary impact being substantial increases in relative abundance of Actinobacteria and Bifidobacterium in particular and a reduction in relative abundance of Firmicutes and Proteobacteria.”
The University of Cincinnati is planning a pilot and feasibility study of 2'-FL as a dietary supplement in IBD patients. The study will examine the effects of 1, 5, or 10 gm 2'-FL (vs placebo) as a dietary supplement in pediatric and young adult IBD patients.
At the other end of the age spectrum, the bifidogenic effects of HMOs may also make these prebiotics interesting to aging populations, which are characterized by declining Bifidobacteria levels.
Prebiotics are defined as: “A substrate that is selectively utilized by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit” (Gibson et al. 2017, Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology)
With a potential pipeline of over 130 HMOs to explore, interest has already expanded beyond 2-‘FL. There is already data around LNnT, and DuPont recently published results of safety assessments on 3-Fucosyllactose (3-FL).
Writing in Food and Chemical Toxicology, DuPont scientists concluded that, “The weight of evidence from these studies support the safe use of 3-FL produced using biotechnology as a nutritional ingredient in foods.”
In a press release from DuPont, Ratna Mukherjea, Ph.D., technical fellow and global R&D leader for HMO and co-author on the new study, commented: “This is an important milestone for the launch of Care4U 3-FL, the next HMO from DuPont. A robust safety assessment has been completed for 3-FL demonstrating the safe use as a nutritional ingredient in foods.”
The industry can expect other suppliers to launch new HMO ingredients, and continue to broaden the scope of the research around these exciting ingredients in the months and years ahead.