Women in Wellness With Dr. Christina J. Valentine of Mead Johnson Nutrition

Don’t forget to take sabbaticals it’s important to take time away and re-energize. As a former collegiate runner I developed a mindset of just put the work in, just work harder, get results. And what became apparent is with creative thinking and with science, you need to take a break. For me, that has always been […]

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Don’t forget to take sabbaticals it’s important to take time away and re-energize. As a former collegiate runner I developed a mindset of just put the work in, just work harder, get results. And what became apparent is with creative thinking and with science, you need to take a break. For me, that has always been going to the beach, going on walks, runs that are more in nature. And my creative thinking just was enhanced and then my ability to tolerate my workload was improved when I would come back. And they don’t have to be long breaks, but any bit helps.

I had the pleasure to interview Christina J. Valentine, MD, MS, RD, FAAP. Christina is a Physician- Scientist focused on maternal / infant diet strategies to attenuate inflammation and improve outcomes. She is currently the medical director for Reckitt Benckiser/Mead Johnson Nutrition, North America where she is involved with the research and development groups. Additionally, she co-leads The Global Human Milk Research Platform, is an active neonatologist and an Associate Visiting Professor at the University of Cincinnati (UC).

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I always wanted to be neonatologist. I was mesmerized by the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. I was inspired by the fact that there is a such a tremendous amount of growth and development in pregnancy — and how nutrition plays a key role I feel a huge responsibility that nutrition plays a key role from conception to two years of age. That amplifying this knowledge out in the community could really impact lifelong health is more than any medicine can do. It’s really understanding how nutrients impact the brain, behavior, immune health, and translating that into foods, nutrients that families can really pay attention to in pregnancy, lactation, and in their infants health. Because, truly, it’s the nutrient that matters and to reassure parents that as long as they focus on the good nutrition, that’s what’s going to impact their baby’s outcome.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I think the most interesting part of my career in the industry has been taking a scientific concept from the blackboard to a baby’s bottle. And really the MFGM story really is that interesting nugget where it’s naturally incurring and in our diet currently, but in formulas, they were defatted and so they missed out on this milk fat globule membrane that every mammal, every drop gets. And so understanding that concept, then working with dairy science to have the technology to actually get that milk fat globule membrane in a safe and qualitative way, having product engineers and product developers mix that with every other key nutrient that goes into a formula, that was just amazing.

And then the supply chain folks and all of the people that go into one bottle of formula, the science, the passion is just an extraordinary way to work. And then the science that keeps coming out about the impact MFGM has in formula and the healthy outcomes those babies have in both development and immune outcomes just makes me feel really proud that we are the leaders with this nutrient in the U.S.

Can you tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the healthcare field?

I think what’s unique about my background is that I’m not only a physician, but I’m also a scientist and I have stayed true to my nutrition roots and I’m still a registered dietician. And having that way of thinking, “questioning the question,” trying to make things better, understanding how to do the science, and then being able to translate that to a meaningful opportunity for parents and families for their babies makes my role [in the healthcare field] pretty unique.

What makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

So our company stands out right now in this segment because we are leading with the inclusion of milk fat globule membrane in our formulas, or MFGM, is really a natural part of many folks’ diet. But it’s been defatted in the formula world, unfortunately. And so unless you put it back where it rightfully was in the first place, you’re not going to get that impact like human milk has, with milk fat globule membrane.

Our company is taking on that investment, which now with new dairy science technology, that capability exists to take milk fat globule membrane in a very safe and qualitative fashion from the dairy industry and put it not just back into the formula where it should be in the first place, but at the right dose. That in clinical studies has shown for the first time that infants fed formulas with milk fat globule membrane, they have similar cognitive score outcomes as the breastfeeding reference group. And also [has] an impact on immune health.

When you look across different cultures and other trials, this has been repeated now in China, Sweden. Many parts of the world have done studies now with MFGM, and all have found this similar outcomes. That there is an impact on immune and brain health, and very similar to the breastfeeding reference groups. So that’s the first time this has ever been shown. We’re really closing the gap and giving families opportunities to be reassured if they don’t have enough mother’s milk available, that this would be a really good option for them.

Currently in the US, we are the only formula to have this milk fat globule membrane. At the dose that matters, you know? That’s what I usually say. Not just the quality, but the dose that matters.

Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to and/or see in the healthcare industry? How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo? Which “pain point” is this trying to address?

I think what most of our research looks to is global human milk exploration, and really trying to find the nutritional product in human milk that we can take to formula. Again in the quality and dose that matters, that has been associated with a scientific outcome for babies in both development and immune health, which is really important for all our families and for public health for that matter.

And how do you prioritize that? Well, some of the things we look to is what is the ingredient that might be missing that should be there in the first place? So it’s not like we’re adding an additive to formula that’s not natural, that’s synthetic. But actually a couple of decades ago people thought de-fatting milk was healthier, and then added vegetable oils. And now we’re finding this dairy cream has a lot of important components in that natural cream, in that milk, in that milk, fat globule membrane. So every mammal, every drop gets those benefits. And the fact that we de-fatted formula, those babies aren’t getting that. So that seemed to us as the biggest opportunity to at least put back where mother nature intended, if you will, to have that available for babies.

And I think what challenges the industry is number one, we’re not trying to replace human milk, by all means. But really just get an impactful nutrient to families that don’t have human milk. And as new technologies are available, that increases our capabilities. Because the next thing we found that was so important in human milk, claustrum, is lactoferrin. It’s a major protein in mother’s milk that in cow milk, although they’re very similar, have very low quantities naturally. And so really finding out what average human milk samples would be, and then putting that natural lactoferrin source back in the milk was the second step. Those two seem like the biggest missing things when you compare mother’s milk to formula.

Just importantly, neither appeared to be impacted by the mom’s genetic or blood type background. Whereas when you look at human milk oligosaccharides, those are very unique mother to baby, based on moms’ blood type. So it really differentiates why, you know, why making certain priorities seemed top of mind, if you will.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Takes a long time. So I think in general when you start along this path of science is that you’re never really aware of how long something takes. To be inspired by a scientific idea all the way to through a study and then to a manuscript and then really translating the science to the community takes a long time. Takes a lot of patience and perseverance.

Impact of integrating work and life. I don’t use the word [work/life] balance. Because balance suggests you’re giving up something to use something. So I call it integrating. And I think that’s a good thing for people to point out, if they would point that out to before you start that, don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s an integration. Women in particular, if they have a family when they’re at work, feel guilty about their family, and then when they’re with a family, feel guilty because they’re not getting work done. But that’s because they’re thinking of the seesaw or the balance. You do one thing, you’re giving up another. What I tend to think of is try to integrate your life more like a sunshine with rays sticking out. And once you get that in your mind, you don’t have that guilt when you’re doing one thing or the other. Because you’re more integrated. And that’s what I teach the folks on my team as well, to try to think of it that way.

Important to assign self with people that support you on this journey. So I believe every part of, you know, what you need to look at is what is going to be your goal and your journey? And each part of that journey it’s important to have a friend, a partner, a sibling, someone that’s your cheerleader, and can be that sounding board for you and support you. Because you can get isolated if you’re working in science exclusively and you know, not taking that time to integrate others in your life. And then it really helps you because you have a sounding board and support as you go through various projects and publications can be very taxing.

Don’t forget to take sabbaticals — important to take time away and reenergize. As a former collegiate runner I developed a mindset of just put the work in, just work harder, get results. And what became apparent is with creative thinking and with science, you need to take a break. For me, that has always been going to the beach, going on walks, runs that are more in nature. And my creative thinking just was enhanced and then my ability to tolerate my workload was improved when I would come back. And they don’t have to be long breaks, but any bit helps.

Take the opportunity to network with disciplines you wouldn’t think necessarily would integrate with you. I’ve learned a lot from dairy science for instance, or product developers, engineers. Sometimes diversifying a project really makes it more robust when you’re in medicine or nutrition, you might just be going down that road and not have all those other disciplines to help you.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?

I enjoy the Harvard Business reviews — they don’t just focus on a business style, but more people/communication/connection — and overall looking into new theories for collaboration and leadership. I also really enjoy reading good mystery novels — it’s the same problem solving/solving cases and it’s just like solving a scientific problem. It motivates me and gets my creative juices flowing. It just is enjoyable to see someone else go through some problem solving in a different way. Not science, but they’re trying to solve a mystery. A mystery novel author I have always enjoyed is Agatha Christie. I think I own every single one!

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