Got (optimal) milk?
Timothy Chan, University of Toronto
Human donor milk is considered important nutrition for millions of infants that are born preterm each year. Donor milk is collected, processed, and distributed by milk banks. The macronutrient content of donor milk is directly linked to infant brain development and can vary substantially across donations, which is why multiple donations are typically pooled together to create a final product. Approximately half of all milk banks in North America do not have the resources to measure the macronutrient content of donor milk, which means pooling is done heuristically. We propose a data-driven framework combining machine learning and optimization, to predict macronutrient content of donations and then optimally combine them in pools, respectively. In collaboration with our partner milk bank, we collect a data set of milk to train our predictive models. We rigorously simulate milk bank practices to fine-tune our optimization models and evaluate operational scenarios such as changes in donation habits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, we conduct a year-long trial implementation, where we observe the current nurse-led pooling practices followed by our intervention. Pools created by our approach meet clinical macronutrient targets between 31% to 76% more often than the baseline, while taking 67% less recipe creation time.