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Univ. Spin-Off Creating Baby Brain Development Food

Pregnant woman

(Greyerbaby, Pixabay)

9 May 2017. A start-up enterprise spun-off from the Duke-NUS medical school in Singapore is licensing research for a new food product for mothers to help a baby’s cognitive development. The company, Babynostics Pte Ltd, was founded last year by Duke-NUS biochemistry professor David Silver, based on his research into molecular mechanisms behind human brain growth and functioning.

Silver and colleagues study a protein needed to transport vital nutrients for cognitive development in babies across the blood-brain barrier. The protein, known as Mfsd2a, helps an essential polyunsaturated fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, cross from blood into the brain, which enables the brains in fetuses and new-born babies to develop normally. Babies with impaired Mfsd2a functioning cannot deliver DHA and other essential fatty acids into the brain, and as a result suffer from limited brain development, including microcephaly, the brain disorder in some children born to mothers infected with the Zika virus.

Babynostics plans to develop diagnostic tests and medicinal food products for pregnant women to monitor and encourage functions related to a baby’s brain growth. The diagnostics are expected to monitor in expectant mothers levels of lipids that bind to DHA, which are carried by Mfsd2a into the developing brains of fetuses. Levels of these lipids in the blood of expectant mothers decrease over the course of the pregnancy, as babies’ brains develop in the fetus.

In preterm or low-birth weight babies, however, these low levels of lipids that bind to DHA can remain low for extended periods of time. Preterm babies, says Silver in a Duke-NUS statement, are at particular risk. “One in 10 babies are born premature,” notes Silver. “When a baby is born preterm, they typically have not received sufficient DHA during fetal development and run the risk of experiencing brain development problems and other related complications.”

The company’s diagnostics will identify insufficient levels of DHA-binding lipids to highlight the need for treatment or supplements. Babynostics also expects to develop a medicinal food product, called PrenatalDHA, for mothers with high-risk pregnancies, including preterm and low-birth weight babies, to aid in children’s cognitive development. The company expects PrenatalDH to be on the market by late 2017.

Babynostics is supported by Sprim Ventures, an international life science and health care investment company and early-stage business incubator. Licensing of the technology for Babynostics was carried out by the Centre for Technology and Development, the technology transfer office at Duke-NUS.

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