We’ve only begun to skim the surface…of research about lactation. There is a current lac(tose) of knowledge about the developmental nutrients that breast milk imparts to infants. Some might say that formula is one size fits all, but we’d prefer to remain abreast of the most current information. Milk puns are udderly delightful, and so is a woman who is on the cutting edge of lactation research: Dr. Katie Hinde.

Photo by David Andrako

Photo by David Andrako

Dr. Hinde is an expert in comparative lactation, or the study of the behavioral biology of milk across different species. She has been conducting research at Harvard on breast milk since 2002, and recently became the first recipient of the American Society of Primatologists Early Career Award, an accolade which has existed for 13 years but has previously never been conferred on a researcher. Dr. Hinde has analyzed the milk of four different species since she began her groundbreaking research, including that of humans, rhesus monkeys, hyenas, and titi monkeys. If that last monkey name caught your eye, it’s probably because you would list “extracting breast milk from primates” among your interests on your eHarmony profile. And yes, the titi monkey is the most difficult of the four species Dr. Hinde has studied from which to extract milk, since their mammary glands and nipples are situated in their armpits. The more you know, the better your second date conversation…

As if the idea of harvesting milk from monkey armpit-nipples isn’t fascinating enough, perhaps the most revolutionary part of Dr. Hinde’s work lies within its potential to help scientists, physicians, and above all, mothers understand the unique nutritional and developmental properties of breast milk. Hormones in breast milk can exert metabolic influences and foster key physiological and neurological developments in children. In fact, the biological properties of breast milk are tailored to the developmental priorities of the nursing child, and differ according to genomic factors like gender.

One last note: Dr. Hinde is an outspoken advocate for supporting mothers by ensuring they are presented with accurate information and infinitely flexible nursing options.  In that vein, ladies, the breast milk of Zebras is closest to that of humans. So if you’ve recently had a baby in the greater New York City area and are looking expand your breast feeding options, YTE would like to recommend a milking excursion to the Zebra pen at the Brooklyn Zoo.*

*This option is highly discouraged by Dr. Hinde, and everyone working at the Comparative Lactation Lab at Harvard.

For more on Dr. Katie Hinde and her research, check out her blog at http://mammalssuck.blogspot.com/

Posted
AuthorChris Duffy

What do you get when you cross a scientist, a rock star, and a rollerblading enthusiast? Nope, it’s not the protagonist from an 80s rom-com. The answer is this week's guest Dr. Pardis Sabeti. Smithsonian Magazine called her the “Rollerblading, Rock Star Scientist of Harvard.”

Dr. Sabeti is a world renowned physician and geneticist, famous for her work applying computational models to the study of evolution and public health. As if that weren't enough to demonstrate a predisposition to success, she's also the lead singer in a rock band called Thousand Days, and frequently rollerblades to and from her lab at Harvard. Early in her career, Dr. Sabeti became convinced that if she could identify recent changes in the human genome, it would lead to breakthrough methods for fighting infectious diseases. To accomplish this, Dr. Sabeti is engaged in a continuous effort to determine if a specific gene variation in a given neighborhood of genes recently conferred a genetic advantage (such as a resistance to disease) on particular population. One of her collaborators at MIT described her as Gretzky-esque in her approach to evolutionary genetics, preferring to skate to where the puck (or in this case, advantageous gene variation) is going to be, rather than where it currently is.

More recently, Dr. Sabeti has directed her investigative mind toward the Lassa virus, a deadly hemorrhagic fever that first emerged in the Nigerian town of Lassa in the late 1960s.  Just how dangerous is the Lassa virus? The US Center for Disease Control identifies the Lassa virus as Biosafety level 4 (the highest possible risk).

Currently, Dr. Sabeti and her team are putting themselves directly in the disease's path by studying and treating victims of the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa. This deadly strain of the virus has already caused over 700 deaths, Peace Corp to pull all its volunteers, and pan-African airlines to halt travel to that western region. Though the risk of the infection spreading among travelers is low, since the disease is transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, health care professionals like Dr. Sabeti and her team are among those at greatest risk for infection. 

Dr. Sabeti is not a figment of 80s pop culture imagination-she’s the real deal. For more on Dr. Sabeti's astounding work, please see: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/pardis-sabeti-the-rollerblading-rock-star-scientist-of-harvard-135532753/?no-ist

Read more of her academic publications here: http://sabetilab.org/people/pardis-sabeti

-Lee Stephenson, Production Associate

Posted
AuthorChris Duffy