Could Breast Milk Acid Beat Cancers?
A substance found in breast milk can kill cancer cells, claim researchers.
For the first time, the substance - known as Hamlet - has been successfully tested on humans.
Patients with bladder cancer who were treated with Hamlet managed to expel dead cancer cells through their urine after each treatment, raising hopes it could be a potential cure.
In the laboratory, the substance has been found to kill 40 types of cancer cell, with the advantage that it leaves healthy cells undamaged.
The discovery, published in the science journal PloS One, has been made by researchers at the University of Gothenburg and Lund University in Sweden.
It is the latest breakthrough
involving health benefits from ingredients found in mother's milk.
Breastfeeding is already known to protect against childhood tumours.
And last week U.S. researchers revealed that lauric acid combats acne and could form the basis of a new treatment which avoids side effects linked with traditional drugs, including skin redness.
Hamlet - Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumour cells - was discovered unintentionally when researchers were investigating the antibacterial properties of breast milk.
The substance consists of a protein and a fatty acid found naturally in breast milk.
Previous experiments have not tested Hamlet in patients.
Assistant Professor Roger Karlsson, from the University of Gothenburg's department of chemistry, said he hoped Hamlet could be developed into a cancer drug.
'Laboratory experiments have shown that Hamlet kills 40 different types of cancer, and the researchers are now going on to study its effect on skin cancer, tumours in the mucous membranes and brain tumours,' he said.
'Importantly, Hamlet kills only cancer cells and does not affect healthy cells.'
Prof Karlsson said the chemical was discovered 'by chance'.
The Swedish research team extracted it from breast milk to test it on cancer patients and used injections to insert it directly into tumours.
He said: 'Although the substance was discovered in breast milk several years ago, it is only now that it has been possible to test it on humans.
'Patients with cancer of the bladder who were treated with the substance excreted dead cancer cells in their urine after each treatment, which has given rise to hopes that it can be developed into medication for cancer care in the future.'
Prof Karlsson's work is based on combining the chemical from breast milk with a fatty acid to create conditions that simulate the acidity found in a baby's stomach - which results in a cancer-killing effect.
'So far, however, it has not been proven that the Hamlet complex is spontaneously formed in the milk,' said Prof Karlsson.
'It is speculated, however, that Hamlet can form in the acidic environment of babies' stomachs.'
The researchers believe the active effect of the substance after exposure to stomach acid may contribute to the known protective effect of breastfeeding against childhood tumours.
April 21, 2010