Agilent Aids Infant Nutrition

Undernutrition contributes to almost half of all deaths in children under the age of five. (WHO) Agilent is helping to counteract this in a highly innovative way.

The World Health Organization recommends to exclusively breastfeed babies from birth to six months of age. (WHO).  This would provide young infants with all the nutrients they need, as well as improve their immune systems.

Here’s an interesting question: How can nutrition and health professionals determine whether this is actually happening?

And here’s an ingenious answer: The International Atomic Energy Agency has been supporting its Member States to improve the measurement of breastfeeding practices objectively using deuterium oxide (D2O).

D2O (or “heavy water”) is water that contains deuterium, a stable isotope of hydrogen harmless to humans at the amount needed to assess breastfeeding practices.  When a lactating mother drinks a small amount of D2O, deuterium is passed from mother to child through the breast milk.  By measuring the amount of deuterium in the saliva from the mother and the child over a period of 14 days, nutrition and health professionals can determine how much breast milk was consumed by the infant and whether the child has consumed water from other sources.  (You can read more about the procedure here.)

“Data from IAEA-supported studies show that mothers sometimes overestimate their breastfeeding rates,” says Victor Owino, nutrition specialist at the IAEA.  “This technique can objectively assess the amount of breast milk consumed and whether the infant is exclusively breastfed, and how this is modified through the introduction of solid foods from six months of age.”

That’s where Agilent comes in.  Agilent makes portable FTIR spectrometers that are ideal for analyzing liquid and solid samples in non-lab environments. (I’ve blogged about their use by environmental scientists and art historians.)  Agilent supplies them to the IAEA and countries to assist in these assessments.

The Agilent FTIR in use at a lab in Tanzania

For example, researchers in Tunisia are using the Agilent portable FTIR and D2O in another innovative way.  They are using the deuterium dilution technique to measure total body water and fat-free mass in school children, to determine body composition. They are also assessing physical activity and correlating it with body composition, showing that excess body fat is associated with lower physical activity.

These are terrific ways to bring science to life!

For Research Use Only.  Not for use in diagnostic procedures.

Thanks to Agilent’s Graham Miller and IAEA’s Dr. Cornelia Loechl for their help with today’s blog post!

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