Nutrition breakthrough: Australian scientists mimic the behaviour of cow and human milk fats during digestion

In an important step forward for infant milk substitutes and nutrition, researchers from Monash University’s Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS) have shown that simple fat mixtures can imitate the behaviour of vastly more complex human and cow milk fats when digested.

The ‘Milk Mimicry’ study led by MIPS digestion specialist, Dr Andrew Clulow, developed simplified fat mixtures that behave the same way as human and cow milk in simulated digestions, in a critical step towards developing readily-obtainable, simplified mimics for the structure of milk fats during digestion.


Dr Clulow will be using the findings to explore how the milk mimicking fats could enhance fatty nutrient uptake and be applied to improving milk substitutes for infants.

Whilst it’s widely accepted that human milk is the ideal food for infants, breastfeeding is not always possible for every mother due to medical, work or lifestyle reasons.

“It’s accepted amongst paediatric specialists that breast milk provides the ideal nutrition for infants which, to date, has not been shown to be replicated in this way,” says Dr Clulow.

“In particular, some infant formulae are not yet able to mimic the way in which human milk fats behave during digestion, highlighting that this is an area that’s still poorly understood and has limited our ability to fully harness the potential of milk substitutes for optimal health outcomes for infants.”

Mother’s milk is nature’s most complete form of nutrition, yet up until recently the importance of the structural transformations occurring in the fats during the digestion of its complex lipid mixture have been largely neglected.

“Fat is one of the main components which makes up the composition of breast milk and is responsible for transporting and delivering fatty nutrients, so this is a really exciting discovery for the team.”

“The next step will be to study how we can apply these findings to further optimise milk substitutes for infant nutrition and potentially medication. To develop a readily available substitute which behaves just like human milk when digested, the other vital components which make up the composition of breast milk will also need to be replicated.”

Nearly 90 per cent of breast milk is water, with the rest comprising fats (around four per cent) and non-fat solids including protein and lactose (around eight per cent).

Dr Clulow is a key member of The Monash Milk Team – a group of scientists at MIPS led by Professor Ben Boyd which was established to understand the behaviour of milk and milk-like systems under digestion and how this can be applied for oral drug and nutrition delivery. Dr Clulow’s work in milk mimicry is funded by the Australian Research Council through a Discovery Early Career Research Award.

The full study has been published in the Elsevier journal Food Hydrocolloids

Contact: Kate Carthew

Phone: +61 438 674814