The benefits of breast milk have been studied for years, from things such as lowered asthma and allergy risk to fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and diarrhea. Researchers now believe there is the potential to use a compound found in breast milk to treat cancer.
In 1995, a research group led by Professor Catharina Svanborg discovered that the compound nicknamed “HAMLET” found in human breast milk contains a substance that kills tumor cells without harming mature, healthy cells. This biological substance is formed by two molecules naturally present in breast milk, the protein alpha-lactalbumin and the lipid oleic acid.
Today, the small pharmaceutical company, HAMLET Pharma, continues its research, particularly on molecules that are naturally present in humans, called GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe).
According to Daily Mail, “Svanborg, an immunologist at Lund University in Sweden, made the chance discovery that the substance [HAMLET] kills tumor cells when working on antibiotics.”
“We were looking for novel antimicrobial agents, and new breast milk is a very good source of these. During one experiment we needed human cells and bacteria to be present, and we chose human tumor cells for practical reasons,” said Svanborg. “To our amazement, when we added this compound of milk, the tumor cells died. It was a totally serendipitous discovery.”
When breast milk hits the gut, that is when researchers believe a reaction takes place, producing alpha-lactalbumin, which targets cancer cells, Yahoo said in an article.
The research findings so far for HAMLET are promising:
HAMLET effectively kills tumor cells but has also proven to be safe in the proof-of-concept studies done on humans. The compound has demonstrated therapeutic effect on skin papillomas in a placebo-controlled clinical trial. HAMLET resulted in rapid shedding of dead tumor cells and a decrease in tumor size in patients with bladder cancer. Therapeutic effects have also been demonstrated in several studies performed in animal models, including effect against glioblastoma (brain cancer), bladder cancer, and colon cancer.
The next step is a Phase 2 trial to study HAMLET’s effect on colon and bladder cancer.
“The goal with the studies is to create a basis for further development of HAMLET to a registered drug, which may require collaboration with major pharmaceutical companies,” according to HAMLET Pharma.
(Sources: HAMLET Pharma, Yahoo News, Daily Mail, WebMD)
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Filed Under: Drug Discovery