Optimizing protein intake for very low birth weight (<1,500 g) infants is fundamental to prevent faltering postnatal growth with the potential association of impaired neurodevelopment. The protein content of human milk is not sufficient to support the growth of very low birth weight infants. To meet their elevated protein requirements, human milk is currently fortified using typically bovine milk-based protein isolates (>85% on a dry basis). However, these products have several limitations for use in this vulnerable population. To overcome the shortcomings of bovine milk-based protein supplement, a human milk protein concentrate (HMPC) was developed. In preliminary attempts using 10 kDa ultrafiltration (UF) membranes, it was not possible to reach the protein content of commercial protein isolates, presumably due to the retention of human milk oligosaccharides (HMO). Consequently, it was hypothesized that the use of a UF membrane with a higher molecular weight cut-off (50 kDa rather than 10 kDa) could improve the transmission of carbohydrates, including HMO, in the permeate, thus increasing the protein purity of the subsequent HMPC. The results showed that permeate fluxes during the concentration step were similar to either UF molecular weight cut-off, but the 50-kDa membrane had a higher permeate flux during the diafiltration sequence. However, it was not sufficient to increase the protein purity of the human milk retentate, as both membranes generated HMPC with similar protein contents of 48.8% (10 kDa) and 50% (50 kDa) on a dry basis. This result was related to the high retention of HMO, mainly during the concentration step, although the diafiltration step was efficient to decrease their content in the HMPC. As the major bioactive proteins (lactoferrin, lysozyme, bile salt stimulated lipase, and α1-antitrypsin) in human milk were detected in both HMPC, the 50-kDa membrane seems the most appropriate to the preparation of HMPC in terms of permeation flux values. However, improving the separation of HMO from proteins is essential to increase the protein purity of HMPC.
Keywords: human milk; milk protein concentrate; molecular weight cut-off; protein profile; ultrafiltration.
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