Gift allows biomedical swine research unit expansion

Substantial gift for a new biomedical swine research unit will increase capability for understanding how nutrition affects brain development in human infants.

A substantial gift for a new biomedical swine research unit at the University of Illinois will increase capability for research regarding learning and memory in young pigs with the goal of understanding how nutrition affects brain development in human infants.

Mead Johnson Nutrition, maker of Enfamil infant formula, awarded the $945,000 gift to Ryan Dilger, a University of Illinois assistant professor of nutrition in the department of animal sciences, to fund the new facility.

"The University of Illinois was chosen because of its truly unique combination of state-of-the-art neuroscience technology and long-standing history of dedication to pediatric nutrition research that includes the use of translational agrimedical research models," said Brian Berg, a research scientist at Mead Johnson.

Dilger said the new unit, set to be in place in early 2015, will enhance the ability of researchers to make new discoveries in cognitive development by using behavior to measure brain function.

"Basically, this gift is to develop new research infrastructure and increase our capabilities in testing how nutrition affects brain development," Dilger said. "In the past, we have looked at such things as iron deficiency and its effects on learning and memory, and this gift will allow us to develop next-generation tools to test how early-life nutrition relates to brain function in an animal model that closely approximates developmental processes in humans."

In coordination with other University of Illinois researchers, including Sharon Donovan and Rod Johnson, Dilger has used animal models for studying human brain development in his research over the last several years.

"(We) use the young pig as a biomedical research subject, with a major research focus on pediatric nutrition, immunology and brain development. It took several years to develop the piglet model into its current state, and now we are taking it to the next level," Dilger said.

Current facilities have allowed Dilger and his lab to raise and monitor 24 pigs at a time from birth. The new, high-throughput facility will provide the space and technology to work with 48 pigs at a time, with greater control over nutrient delivery and video monitoring of piglet behavior.

An automated liquid feeding system, continuous video monitoring and specialized testing and observation spaces will allow the unit to run more efficiently.

More information on research from Dilger's lab is available at http://ansci.illinois.edu/labs/comparative-animal-nutrition.

Mead Johnson, a global leader in pediatric nutrition, develops, manufactures, markets and distributes more than 70 products in more than 50 markets worldwide.

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