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Explore Health and Human Development

Shannon L. Kelleher, Ph.D.

Mammary glands are highly specialized exocrine glands unique to mammals that have developed to produce milk to nourish the developing offspring. Human milk is a complex biological fluid that provides nutrients and non-nutritive factors for optimal growth and development. The benefits of breastfeeding on infant health are indisputable and include optimized growth, neurological development and immune function. These benefits extend throughout adulthood to include reduced risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome.

The goal of our research is to answer two fundamental questions:

  • How does maternal diet affect mammary gland function?
  • How does genetic variation govern the ability to produce enough high-quality milk?

Our laboratory integrates nutrition with genetics, cell biology, physiology and endocrinology to understand effects of maternal diet and genetics on (1) milk production and composition; (2) nutrient transfer and utilization in the nursing offspring; (3) zinc metabolism in the mammary gland; (4) breast function, disease and cancer. To explore these areas, we work with cultured cells and animal models and conduct clinical studies in women.