The Perfect Food

| Print |  Email
Articles - July/August 2014
Friday, July 11, 2014

profile-IMG 7480BY LINDA BAKER | PHOTOS BY JASON KAPLAN

Lake Oswego entrepreneur Elena Medo is yanking an age-old practice — wet-nursing — into the 21st century. 

The founder and CEO of Medolac Laboratories, Medo this past year opened a 5,000-square-foot headquarters and processing facility, where her 18 employees convert “raw” breast milk into a shelf stable product that can be sold to hospitals and humanitarian aid organizations. Medolac sources the milk from the Mother’s Milk Cooperative, a first-of-its-kind organization Medo established on Mother’s Day 2013 that pays mothers for their milk.  

It’s a decidedly postmodern endeavor: applying industrial-scale food-processing technology and social venture/sharing economy principles to enable mass production of human breast milk.

“It’s the producer-processor model,” explains Medo, who is at once pragmatic and passionate about the Medolac setup and its benefits. “Think tomatoes, think dairy,” she explains. “The producers are the people who provide the raw material — in this case, moms. The processor is Medolac. Medolac processes it, but the milk belongs to the co-op.”  

In 2014 everyone knows breast milk is best. Getting new moms to switch from infant formula to nursing ranks as one of the public health movement’s big success stories. Over 70% of American women now breast-feed their infants for some amount of time; 44% nurse for six months.  

Medolac is entering the scene as a new phase of the breast-feeding campaign unfolds. More and more hospitals are adopting breast milk as a standard of care in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). For premature babies, human milk provides a protein necessary for healthy development; it can also prevent necrotizing enterocolitis, an intestinal illness that is a leading killer of premature infants. If the mother of a preemie is unable to produce milk, many hospitals now use donor milk when available. 

A network of nonprofit milk banks with volunteer donors serves that market. But those milk banks supply less than 5% of very low-birthweight babies’ requirements, asserts Medo, whose credentials include an M.B.A. with a health focus. Paying moms will help scale production to meet demand, she says. Plus, unlike nonprofit donor milk, which must be kept frozen, Medolac’s product can be stored at room temperature — for up to three years. It’s a model Medo says will dramatically increase access to breast milk in the U.S. and around the world.

“We anticipate serving the entire domestic market and extending into the global market in five years,” she says. “There is no acceptable reason for babies to die for lack of donor milk. But that’s what’s happening.”

Medo, 60, has been in the for-profit breast-milk game since 1999, when she started Prolacta Bioscience, a San Diego company that developed a human milk fortifier for use in NICUs. She left in 2008, as a new executive team was thinking about selling the company. “It wasn’t the environment that really fostered innovation. And I really wanted to innovate.” 

Armed with a federal-discovery grant and seed capital, Medo launched Medolac in 2009. She also received a USDA grant to explore the feasibility of a milk co-op.  Four years later, Medo, along with her husband and Medolac COO Joseph Medo, relocated to Oregon. (Her daughter, Adrianne Weir, oversees the milk cooperative). “The rent, the cost of employees are all dramatically lower here than in California,” Medo says. The Oregon lifestyle was also appealing: “very family friendly, wholesome, lots of water.”



 

More Articles

Destination Resorts 2.0

June 2015
Friday, May 22, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER | PHOTOS BY JASON E. KAPLAN

As the recession recedes and tourism grows, Central Oregon resorts redefine themselves for a new generation.


Read more...

Intrepid reporter checks out ZoomCare rebrand

The Latest
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
dentistthumbPHOTOS BY JASON E. KAPLAN

Like all good journalists, OB editorial staff typically eschew freebies. But health care costs being what they are, digital news editor Jacob Palmer couldn't resist ZoomCare's offer of a three-in-one (cleaning, exam, whitening) dental office visit, guaranteed to take no more than 57 minutes. 


Read more...

Oregon businesses face destruction from future earthquake

The Latest
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
htctthumb1BY KIM MOORE | RESEARCH EDITOR

An earthquake would completely destroy many Oregon businesses, highlighting the urgent need for the private and public sectors to collaborate on shoring up disaster preparedness, said panelists at an Oregon Business breakfast summit today.


Read more...

5 stats about Oregon fireworks

The Latest
Thursday, June 18, 2015
fireworksthumb001BY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Fireworks are a booming industry, even if the pyrotechnics have turned July 4th into a day fire marshals, and many residents, love to hate.


Read more...

Biker dreams

The Latest
Friday, May 15, 2015
bike at ater wynn-thumbBY KIM MOORE | RESEARCH EDITOR

The Portland Bureau of Transportation is seeking input from businesses on a $5.5 million initiative to create a network of biking, transit and pedestrian trails within Portland’s central city.


Read more...

Hall of Flame

June 2015
Friday, May 22, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

A Power Lunch at Oswego Grill.


Read more...

Stemming the tide of money in politics

Linda Baker
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
 jeff-lang-2012-thumbBY LINDA BAKER

Jeff Lang and his wife Rae used to dole out campaign checks like candy.  “We were like alcoholics,” Lang says. ”We couldn’t just give a little.”


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS