Stem Cells: The Medicine in Breast Milk?
Human breast milk is often ‘sold’ to mums as a food, that is to say the focus is on the nutritional benefits that a breastfeeding baby would get from breast milk that he or she wouldn’t from formula milk.
There is another way to look at breast milk though: as a medicine. Scientists and health professionals have known for some time that mother’s breast milk contains health promoting substances. However more recent research has proven that these substances include stem cells. These miraculous cells pass from mother to child during breastfeeding.
Whilst researchers are still trying to figure out exactly how stem cells affect an infant’s development, there is plenty to suggest another big reason for mothers to choose breast milk wherever possible.
What are Stem Cells?
Like all cells, stem cells divide to form additional cells – the reason growth and development happens. However, stem cells are a bit special. Rather than just dividing into two of the same sort of cell, stem cells produce a ‘daughter cell’ of a different type and remain unchanged. This is the key to specialization, and explains why a baby doesn’t just grow into a blob of matter!
Most people associate stem cells with embryos. Embryos contain the most powerful types of stem cells – cells that can produce any type of cell that the adult human body possesses. However, stem cells are abundant in the adult body too. While they are not quite as magical as embryonic cells, they are less controversial. Some of these can still transform into many different types of cell.
For example, mesenchymal stem cells (or MSCs) are a type of stem cell found in blood, fat and other tissues. They can differentiate into many types of cells including blood, bone, cartilage and muscle cells.
Stem cells are at the center of a branch of medicine known as ‘regenerative medicine’. It’s believed to hold the key to healing a host of different diseases and injuries. For everyone- from CFS sufferers, to people living with an acute spinal cord injury, stem cells are offering hope for a better life.
How do we know Stem Cells are in Breast Milk?
So how do we know that stem cells are in breast milk? Or that they indeed pass from mother to child during feeding?
Scientists use molecules known as ‘markers’ to detect various types of cell presences. One of these, nestin, is a protein molecule that is used for identifying the presence of stem cells. discovering nestin’s presence proved to Dr Mark Cregan’s team, almost a decade ago, that breast milk contained stem cells. And it gets better: Dr Cregan’s team detectedmore than one type of stem cell. This suggests breast milk could be one of the most potent sources of stem cells of all!
Proving that these stem cells travel across from mother to child is tricker. It requires altering the genes within the stem cells – something you cant do to healthy breastfeeding mothers! Foteini Kakulas (then Hassiotou), from the same university as Cregan (the University of Western Australia), finally settled the issue. He altered mouse genes so they would glow red under ultra-violet light. Female mice with this ‘tdTomato’ gene mated. Then they were given non-altered offspring to suckle. On testing, the baby mice showed traces of stem cells in their blood and various organs. Many developed into fully functioning adult stem cells- such as insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, and albumin-producing cells in the liver. So not only had stem cells made the journey from mother to offspring, they had become integrated into the infant’s body and contributed to its development.
The Right Type of Stem Cell
Scientists are excited about stem cells presence in breast milk for another reason. They are the right type of cell for stem cell therapy. One of the problems with embryonic stem cells – on top of their controversy – is that they can potentially divide into the wrong type of cell and lead to tumor growth. There are restrictions on so-called ‘somatic’ cells in breast milk’s ability to divide. This means the cells are easier to coax into providing exactly the type of cell needed. Although more research is necessary before such treatments become feasible.
What Other Medicines are in Breast Milk?
Aside from their stem cell content, human breast milk containS immune cells and other beneficial molecules such as MiRNA. MiRNA is a molecule that regulates development. There’s a lot of research on the presence of immune cells in breast milk. The infant receives protection from diseases the mother is carrying. But also, through the mechanism of retrograde milk flow (or ‘baby spit backwash,’ as researcher Katie Hinde likes to call it), the mother creates immunities against any micro-organisms her child harbors. This means the cell profile of breast milk proves that evolution supports breast-feeding!
An experienced thoracic, cardiac and vascular surgeon, Dr Hazem Barmada has been performing stem cell treatments at Gulf Coast Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine Center since 2000. They offers pioneering stem cell therapy for an extensive range of illnesses and injuries. He is a graduate of Manchester University Medical School in the UK.
To find out more about the procedures used and the pathologies treated, you can visit their website at http://www.gulfcoaststemcell.com OR call them on (866) 885-4823. Get in touch via Facebook.
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