University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, 8 April 2021, photo credit: Association of American Universities
When scientists need to understand the effects of new infant formula ingredients on brain development, it’s rarely possible for them to carry out initial safety studies with human subjects. After all, few parents are willing to hand over their newborns to test unproven ingredients.
Enter the domestic pig. Its brain and gut development are strikingly similar to human infants – much more so than traditional lab animals, rats and mice. And, like infants, young pigs can be scanned using clinically available equipment, including non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI.
That means researchers can test nutritional interventions in pigs, look at their effects on the developing brain via MRI, and make educated predictions about how those same nutrients will affect human infants.