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Breastmilk component kills cancer cells

A few years ago immunology student, Anders Hakansson1, of Lund University, Sweden, was experimenting by mixing human milk, cancer cells and bacteria. To his surprise the cancer cells were "acting up". Their volume was decreasing and their nuclei shrinking. Hakansson's supervisor, Catharina Svanborg, quickly recognized that the cancer cells were committing suicide. The phenomenon of apoptosis, whereby the body rids itself of old and unnecessary cells was well known, however for this to occur with cancer cells was unknown as their usual pattern is to reproduce in an uncontrolled fashion. Something in the breastmilk caused the cancer cells to self-destruct. Svanborg and her team had already done extensive investigation in the ability of breastmilk to protect the gut lining from invasive bacteria such as pneumococcus that causes the increased rates of upper respiratory tract infections and otitis media in children not breastfed. And so they began to track down the cancer-killing component in breastmilk. Then in 1995 they reported2 that the protein alpha-lactalbumin, or alpha-lac for short, was capable of targeting not only cancer cells but also other immature and rapidly growing cells, leaving stable, mature cells for growth and development. Alpha-lac's amazing capabilities may explain in part why formula fed infants suffer from increased rates of infectious diseases as well as childhood cancers.

References:
1. Discover Magazine, June 30, 1999

2. Hakahsson, A. et al. Apoptosis induced by a human milk protein. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 92:8064-8068, 1995

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