Melbourne: Science has made impressive advances in the art of producing animal products without the animal. Today, this emerging field of cellular agriculture is tackling its biggest challenge to date: breast milk.
Breast milk is a complex substance, and breastfeeding is even more complicated. We are far from recreating it in its entirety.
It’s one thing to produce a chicken nugget or even a whole steak through cell farming, but providing a developing child with all the nutrients they need in their first year of life is another.
But cell culture breast milk may soon help non-breastfeeding parents who want a better option than existing cow’s milk formulas.
How to make breast milk
The production of breast milk has many similarities to the production of cultured meat. The basic steps are as follows.
First you need some of the milk-producing cells that line the breast ducts. These “mammary epithelial cells” can be grown from donated milk.
Then you grow the cells in vials with nutrients, which allows them to multiply.
Once you have enough cells to behave like healthy breast tissue, you transfer them to a bioreactor (a larger container of nutrients) with a structure similar to the mammary duct.
Then you add a hormone called prolactin to the bioreactor. This gives the cells the green light for secretion of milk on one side while absorbing nutrients on the other.
Finally, you perform quality control and security screening.
Eventually, other supplements naturally found in breast milk could be added, such as antibodies and beneficial bacteria or even immune cells and stem cells.
âMay food be your medicine and medicine be your foodâ Breast milk puts the brain, immune system and metabolism on a lifelong path of improving cognitive function and reducing infections and chronic diseases. For premature or sick babies, the value of breast milk is especially pronounced.
Breast milk contains an optimal balance of water, carbohydrates, fats, proteins and micronutrients, as well as a blend of maternal immune cells, stem cells, antibodies, and healthy bacteria that seed the gut microbiome. the child.
Breast milk also changes over time to meet the changing needs of the developing child. It can even help directly with infections. When pathogens from the baby’s upper respiratory tract enter the mammary duct, the mother can trigger an immune response and inject targeted immune cells and antibodies back to the baby.
The Many Disadvantages of Current Alternatives to Breastmilk For many reasons, breastfeeding is not an option for many new parents. According to the latest report available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (covering fiscal year 2017-18), only 29% of 6-month-old babies were exclusively breastfed but more than half (53%) had not been introduced to solid foods.
This suggests that about a quarter of babies are formula fed. Infant formulas are perfectly acceptable from a nutritional standpoint, but they cannot duplicate the intricacies of reality.
Most infant formulas are made from cow’s milk, which is optimal for a calf rather than a human baby, and lacks more nuanced health promoting factors such as mother’s antibodies and bacteria. beneficial.
In addition, recent calculations show that feeding babies formula generates more carbon emissions than breastfeeding. This represents the additional 500 calories that a nursing mother should eat, even when the mother ate foods of animal origin.
Donated milk is another alternative to breastfeeding, but it’s hard to find and milk banks prioritize premature and sick babies. In fiscal year 2020-21, Australian Red Cross Lifeblood recorded 2,320 liters of breast milk donated to more than 1,000 vulnerable babies.
There are also online breast milk markets on Facebook and Craigslist. These are unregulated, are potential sources of infectious disease, and leave desperate parents vulnerable to exploitation.
Although no cell culture breast milk is yet commercially available, several companies are working on it. Some of those closest to a product’s release include BIOMILQ, based in the United States, Israel BioMilk, and TurtleTree Labs in the United States.
In Australia, scientist and stem cell entrepreneur Luis Malaver-Ortega founded a company called Me & Food Tech to produce breast milk using new cellular technologies.
When will these products be available? It’s hard to say exactly.
There are significant hurdles in both basic research and regulation that must be overcome before cell culture breast milk companies can produce on a large scale. But private investment in industry is growing rapidly, as is the interest of university researchers. (The conversation)
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Posted on: Saturday, November 20, 2021, 7:00 a.m. IST