WINNIPEG -- A University of Manitoba researcher has been awarded $6.5 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create a new global health initiative focused on breast milk.

The grant will help establish the International Milk Composition Consortium, a group that will analyze the components of breast milk connected to infant growth and resilience.

The goal of the research is to help inform maternal and infant nutrition recommendations and interventions. It will also shed light on why some breastfed infants develop infections, and will help optimize nutrition for babies who can’t be breastfed.

According to a news release from the U of M, the nutritional and non-nutritional components of breastfeeding vary between women and little is known about these variations.

“Breast milk is fascinating,” said Dr. Meghan Azad, a U of M assistant professor, in the release.

“It is so fundamentally important to infant health, and yet we know surprisingly little about breast milk composition and its variation around the world. This project will help us learn about how human milk helps human babies develop and grow up healthy.”

The consortium will combine research groups from Tanzania, Pakistan, Nepal, Burkina Faso and Canada. It will also include human milk scientists and data scientists.

Researchers will work with 1200 mother-infant pairs to begin with.