Dr. Masako Fujita Receives NSF Grant for Research on Breastmilk

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Dr. Masako Fujita received a National Science Foundation grant of $120,000 to fund her project, “Breastmilk antibody and micronutrient in association with maternal nutrition and infant sex in a polygynous Ariaal society of rural Kenya.” The project will be conducted in Fujita’s Biomarker Laboratory for Anthropological Research at MSU.

The project will analyze milk samples from a polygynous population from Kenya. The milk specimens were originally collected as part of another NSF-funded research collaboration between Dr. Fujita, then a doctoral candidate at the University of Washington and the Center for Public Health Research, and Kenya Medical Research Institute. In the current project, Dr. Fujita and student investigators will see whether the beneficial contents of the milk differ for mothers of sons versus daughters, by maternal nutritional status, and by a combination of the two. Student investigators include Mary Corbitt, an undergraduate student, Nerli Paredes, a graduate student and an NSF GRFP Fellow, and Sabrina Perlman, a doctoral candidate and a Fulbright scholar. They will assist in lab analysis, data management, literature reviews, and writing of the results.

The levels of some beneficial contents of human milk such as antibodies and vitamins vary greatly among mothers. How these variations may relate to the context of culture and gender is not well understood. This project will study the archived, de-identified milk specimens from a society with a high degree of gender inequality in cultural norms and rules. The gender-biased marriage rules are hypothesized to affect the levels of immunological and nutritional contents of the milk that may in turn influence infant growth and health. The findings will inform public health efforts to reduce the mortality of vulnerable children. To read more about the proposed research, please visit NSF’s website:


Photograph (from left): Dr. Fujita, Nerli Paredes, and Mary Corbitt in the Biomarker Lab