Monash pharmaceutical researchers unlocking milk’s formula to save lives

22 July 2014

A new study on the digestion of milk could lead to the development of new formulas for premature babies, weight-loss drinks and potentially new drug delivery systems.
Published in the journal ACS Nano, the Monash University research shows for the first time detailed insights into the structure of milk during digestion.
While milk’s nutritional values are well known, little research has been conducted into the detailed structure of milk and how its fats interact with the digestive system until now.
Funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC), and led by Dr Stefan Salentinig and Professor Ben Boyd from the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, the team looked at the nanostructure of milk to find out how its components interact with the human digestive system.
They discovered milk has a highly geometrically ordered structure when being digested.
Dr Salentinig said the research provides a blueprint for the development of new milk products. It could also lead to a new system for drug delivery.
“By unlocking the detailed structure of milk we have the potential to create milk loaded with fat soluble vitamins and brain building molecules for premature babies, or a drink that slows digestion so people feel fuller for longer. We could even harness milk’s ability as a ‘carrier’ to develop new forms of drug delivery,” Dr Salentinig said.
By chemically recreating the digestive system in a glass beaker and adding cows’ milk, the team found that milk has a unique structure—an emulsion of fats, nutrients and water forms a structure which enhances digestion.
As well as laboratory work at Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, the researchers accessed specialist instruments at the Australian Synchrotron to simulate digestion and accelerate the research. Using enzymes present in the body, water was added to milk fat to break it down, and the Synchrotron’s small-angle X-ray scattering beam showed that when digested, the by-products of milk become highly organised.
Dr Salentinig said the structure is similar to a sponge, potentially enhancing the absorption of milk’s healthy fats.
“We knew about the building blocks of milk and that milk fat has significant influence on the flavor, texture and nutritional value of all dairy food. But what we didn’t know was the structural arrangement of this fat during digestion,” he said. “We found that when the body starts the digestion process, an enzyme called lipase breaks down the fat molecules to form a highly geometrically ordered structure. These small and highly organised components enable fats, vitamins and lipid-soluble drugs to cross cell membranes and get into the circulatory system,”
The next phase of the research will see the team work with nutritionists to better make the link between these new findings and dietary outcomes, and under the ARC funding, utilize these findings to design and test improved medicines.

Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences

Every day, Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences researchers dedicate their time to researching and designing better medicines.
They are Australia’s largest, most experienced and successful group of pharmaceutical scientists. More than 160 scientists and 120 PhD students undertake basic and translational drug discovery, drug delivery and drug development research in new, state-of-the-art laboratories on Monash‘s Parkville campus.
MIPS was established in 2008 and builds upon the ground-breaking research activities of the Victorian College of Pharmacy, Monash University, developers of the Relenza flu treatment.
The internationally recognised institute strives to conduct the most insightful science in the field by the best researchers and research students in world-class facilities.
Their contemporary and collaborative organisational structure enables research to occur where the core scientific disciplines meet. Collaboration at these disciplinary interfaces is expected to transform medicine design and development outcomes.

Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Monash Pharmacy School

Pharmaceutical scientists are experts in the chemistry, biology and biotechnology required to design and develop medicines. They play a key role in improving human health and well-being by researching and developing reliable, accessible and effective treatments.
They understand the impact of medicines on the body and diseases. They’re also experts in bringing safe and effective products to market.
If you enjoy solving problems, love chemistry or biology, and want to improve human health, then a Bachelor of Pharmaceutical Science could be your calling. It equips you to work in the pharmaceutical science and biomedical fields.
Pharmacists, on the other hand, are directly concerned with people’s health and well-being. As members of a healthcare team, they provide advice on the safe and effective use of medicine. They’re actively involved in patient care in hospitals and the community. As medicine experts, they can also work in government, industry, research and clinical-trial roles.
If you are interested in science and healthcare, and enjoy communicating with people, then the Bachelor of Pharmacy is the degree you’re looking for—it’s the degree you need to be a pharmacist.

Do you have questions about studying pharmacy or pharmaceutical science at Monash University Pharmacy School? Contact OzTREKK’s Australian Pharmacy Schools Officer Rachel Brady at, or call toll free in Canada at 1-866-698-7355 and find out how you can study in Australia!