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Human Breast Milk is a New Source of Stem Cells

Tim Boyer's picture
Human Breast Milk

Human breast milk as a new source of stem cells may remove the frustration some medical researchers face from legislators who fight to deny federal funding toward stem cell research. Stem cell research opponents base their objections on moral and religious grounds when discarded early stage human embryos from in-vitro fertilization clinics are used as sources of stem cells. However, the moral and religious arguments may soon fade away. Researchers believe that human breast milk derived stem cells may be as pliable as embryonic stem cells toward generating replacement tissues for many disease therapies.

In a recent meeting at the National Finals at the 2011 AusBiotech Conference in Adelaide, researchers presented their latest findings that human breast milk is a rich source of stem cells. Their research demonstrated that breast milk stem cells can not only be induced to differentiate into breast tissue, but also into a range of other tissues including bone, cartilage, fat, liver, pancreas and brain tissue.

Dr. Foteini Hassiotou, a member of the Hartmann Human Lactation Research Group at the University of Western Australia and the lead researcher of the study states that, "The benefit of obtaining stem cells from breast milk is that they can be accessed non-invasively, unlike getting them from the bone marrow, umbilical cord blood or peripheral blood."

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She believes that human breast milk may hold great promise toward treating patients who suffer from diabetes and Parkinson’s disease as well as many types of cancer. "If we can understand the properties of these cells and their role in the breast and in the breast-fed baby, we can use them as models for breast cancer research and in innovative stem cell therapies,” she says.

Dr. Hassiotou explains that the current limitation of stem cell research is that it requires invasive procedures to procure stem cells that may or may not be of use for a particular condition. "Stem cell therapy is a very promising technology. Every year there are more than 1,000 stem cell transplants in Australia and over 60,000 around the world. The limitations of the current therapies are that the transplanted stem cells are accessed using invasive methods and have limited differentiation potential. Breast milk offers a new exciting opportunity for stem cell therapies, with the potential to benefit not only the mother and child, but also other people."

The next step in her research is to examine the in vivo transplantation potential of breast milk stem cells in animals.
Source: University of Western Australia news report.

Image source of Human Breast Milk: Wikipedia