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Agilent Technologies’ Microfluidics System Used in Breakthrough Breast Milk Study

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Agilent Technologies Inc. has announced that a group of researchers from the University of California, Davis, has made a significant discovery: human breast milk contains an unexpected abundance of sugars that coats the lining of infants’ intestines, protecting it from noxious bacteria. Results of the research, which used Agilent technology, were published in this month’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Agilent’s high-performance liquid chromatography polymer chip (HPLC-Chip) and quadrupole time-of-flight (QTOF) LC/MS technology provided researchers a new view of the oligosaccharide (sugar) structures produced in breast milk across stages of lactation among human mothers.

Oligosaccharides are the third most abundant component in breast milk and prior to this study were thought to have no biological significance. HPLC-Chip/MS technology has enabled researchers to identify more than 200 different human milk oligosaccharides structures, which researchers have discovered are an important factor in the healthy growth of infants.

“This type of research has been performed and duplicated many times in the past,” said Dr. Carlito B. Lebrilla, co-author of the research. “However, the new technology developed by Agilent made it possible to identify and quantitate milk oligosaccharides providing new and important observations that could not be obtained in the past.

Agilent commercialized the HPLC-Chip/MS concept in 2005, combining nanoflow HPLC columns, connecting capillaries and a spray emitter into a re-useable, credit-card-size device. This allowed the advantages of high-sensitivity and low-sample consumption provided by nano LC/MS to be accessible to scientists without the troublesome setup involving microvalve, fittings and capillary tubing of conventional nano LC. The addition of high-resolution, accurate mass MS/MS information from Agilent’s 6500-Series Q-TOF LC/MS systems enabled researchers to confidently identify sugar structures.

“This is truly a remarkable study, providing answers to questions many in the scientific community have been researching for decades,” said Rudi Grimm, Ph.D., director of science and technology for Agilent’s Life Sciences Group. “As a leading partner to the academic community, we are both excited and pleased that our technology enabled this research.”