Professor O’Connor’s research program focuses on three areas of maternal and infant nutrition. First, she is assessing the folate status of Canadians with an emphasis on women. Folate is one of the B-vitamins and inadequate blood levels can increase a woman’s risk of having an infant with a birth defect, specifically a neural tube defect. Prof. O’Connor’s lab continues to investigate the role that bacterial biosynthesis of folate in the colon plays on the folate status of humans. Second, Prof. O’Connor is investigating the use of donor human milk for very low birth weight infants when mothers’ own milk is in short supply. She believes using donor human milk as a supplement to mothers’ own milk during initial hospitalization may improve the long-term neurocognitive outcomes of these vulnerable infants. Finally, Prof. O’Connor and her lab have been examining the relationships between metabolic status (normoglycemia, gestational diabetes) of women during pregnancy on breast milk hormone composition. It is well known that maternal diet and metabolic status may program off-spring in utero for adult diseases later in life; she is studying whether early diet, and specifically breast milk composition, could do the same.
Chair, Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Toronto