Harper Government invests in innovative nutritional research that will benefit hospitalized babies and their families

March 18, 2014 – Toronto – Canadian Institutes of Health Research

Dr. Philip Sherman, Dr. Sharon Unger, Dr. Debbie O'Connor, MP Eve Adams, Mr. Joseph Mapa, Dr. Ayelet Kuper

Today, Eve Adams, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Honourable Rona Ambrose, Minister of Health, announced $2 million in funding for nutritional research that will benefit extremely vulnerable babies and their families.

This grant has been awarded to Dr. Sharon Unger, Neonatologist at Mount Sinai Hospital and Medical Director, The Rogers Hixon Ontario Human Milk Bank and Dr. Deborah O'Connor, Senior Associate Scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and Professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto for their research project on Optimizing Mother's Milk for Preterm Infants. The research aims to evaluate the benefits, risks and costs of using pasteurized donor human milk, a human milk-based nutrient fortifier and protein modulars for feeding very low birth weight infants. The infants will be followed until school age and will be assessed on their brain development and appropriate growth. The donor milk is now supplied by the Rogers Hixon Ontario Human Milk Bank located at Mount Sinai Hospital.

This study will be pivotal in setting feeding guidelines for very low birth weight infants in Canada and globally.

Quick Facts

  • Located at Mount Sinai Hospital, and in partnership with SickKids and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, The Rogers Hixon Ontario Human Milk Bank collects donated breast milk from lactating women, pasteurizes it, and distributes it by prescription to medically fragile babies in neonatal intensive care units across Ontario.
  • While mother's own milk is the gold standard, many mothers of extremely vulnerable hospitalized babies are unable to provide the necessary volume of milk for their babies. When mother's own milk is not available or is limited, pasteurized donor milk is recommended for sick hospitalized infants as an alternative to formula by the Canadian Paediatric Society.
  • Pasteurized donor human milk can help protect the most medically fragile babies against life-threatening illnesses, such as necrotizing enterocolitis (a severe bowel condition that preterm babies are prone to), and potentially against serious infections and other complications related to preterm birth. The bioactive components of donor milk, including cytokines, hormones, and enzymes, optimize the health and development of babies.

MP Eve Adams with Dr. Ayelet Kuper, the mother of twins

MP Eve Adams in the neonatal intensive care unit at Mount Sinai Hospital


"Our Government is pleased to support Drs. Unger and O'Connor in this initiative. Their research is revolutionizing care for extremely vulnerable babies, by setting new nutritional practices, guidelines and policies that will greatly benefit their health outcomes and quality of life."
- Eve Adams, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

"As a neonatologist I see the most fragile babies every day fighting to survive. We know that providing donor milk to these babies makes a real difference, but we need to learn more to get an even better understanding of how we can improve outcomes. The previous research funding in this area resulted in the opening of Ontario's only human milk bank, and I know that this new investment will propel even better care to our tiniest patients."
- Dr. Sharon Unger, Neonatologist at Mount Sinai Hospital and Medical Director, The Rogers Hixon Ontario Human Milk Bank.

"The strength of this research is that is has the potential to be a real game changer in improving neurocognitive development among our most vulnerable babies. Optimizing the nutritional content of mother's own and donor milk and integrating this research into clinical care allows clinicians, researchers and parents to give these babies the best possible start,"
- Dr. Deborah O'Connor, Senior Associate Scientist at SickKids and Professor, Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Toronto

"Studies show that nutrition is important for brain and body development in fetal and early postnatal life. I am excited about this project for its potential to greatly impact the lives of the most fragile babies by improving their long-term health and development."
- Dr. Philip Sherman, Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes

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Brett Carlson
Office of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Health

Media Relations
Canadian Institutes of Health Research

Sally Szuster
Communications & Public Affairs
Mount Sinai Hospital
416-586-4800 ext. 8713

Matet Nebres
Media Relations

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is the Government of Canada's health research investment agency. CIHR's mission is to create new scientific knowledge and to enable its translation into improved health, more effective health services and products, and a strengthened health care system for Canadians. Composed of 13 Institutes, CIHR provides leadership and support to more than 13,200 health researchers and trainees across Canada.

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