Antibiotic Made from Component of Breast Milk Kills Bacteria at Warp Speed

breast milk research
Science & Medicine

Scientists announced recently they’ve developed an antibiotic from a fragment of a protein found in human breast milk, and they believe it could be the solution to drug-resistant superbugs. [1]

Antibiotic resistance threatens to send medicine back to the Dark Ages. Imagine a world in which illnesses that used to be easily treated with antibiotics kill scores of people with impunity. Picture developing an infection after surgery and there is virtually no drug to treat it.

If farmers continue to needlessly feed antibiotics to livestock to promote growth and prevent disease, and if humans continue to demand antibiotics for illnesses that can’t be successfully treated with drugs, that is the world we may someday find ourselves living in.

As genetically mutated bacteria resistant to all antibiotic drugs make their way around the globe, changes need to happen as quickly as possible, and scientists must develop alternative treatments – and embrace natural ones – in case the old standbys become useless.

How the Breast Milk Antibiotic Comes into Play

The new antibiotic, developed by scientists at the National Physical Laboratory and University College London, utilizes the protein Lactoferrin, and effectively kills some drug-resistant bacteria, viruses and fungi on contact.

The miniscule fragment, less than a nanometer in width, gives Lactoferrin its antimicrobial properties. It’s what makes breast milk so effective at protecting babies’ immunity and health.

The researchers re-engineered the fragment into a virus-like capsule capable of recognizing and targeting specific bacteria and killing them on contact, but without harming any surrounding human cells.

“To monitor the activity of the capsules in real time we developed a high-speed measurement platform using atomic force microscopy,” said Hasan Alkassem, one of the contributors to the study.

Bacteria might never get the chance to become resistant, because Lactoferrin rips them apart in a fraction of a second.

“The challenge was not just to see the capsules, but to follow their attack on bacterial membranes. The result was striking: the capsules acted as projectiles porating the membranes with bullet speed and efficiency,” Akassem explained.

Read: What Are The Most Effective Natural Antibiotics?

Much more research is needed before Lactoferrin can be doled out in antibiotic form. The safety of the drug has to be tested first. But the scientists hope their discovery might help pull us back from the Dark Ages of medicine.

“We need on average 10 new antibiotics every decade,” said England’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies. “If others do not work with us, it’s not something we can sort on our own.”

She added: “This is a global problem. I am optimistic about this. The science is crackable. It’s doable.”

Scientists hope Lactoferrin will eventually treat other diseases once thought incurable, such as sickle-cell anemia. This disease is a hereditary condition marked by malformed red blood cells that don’t replenish as quickly as they should, resulting in anemia.

Over time, sickle-cell anemia results in tissue and organ damage, weakness and fainting, increased risk of stroke, and long stretches of pain lasting anywhere from a week to several months. Most people with the disease do not live past 50.


[1] The Guardian

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