Mother’s Milk Cells Key to Novel Infant Disease Therapy

Breast milk has long been considered an ideal way to feed a growing baby. Full of nutrients that are easily digested, it assists in brain growth, improved eyesight and the development of the infantile gastrointestinal, nervous and immune systems.

Now, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are exploring ways to utilize the unique properties of breast milk to develop a novel approach to infant disease therapy.

Whitehead looks at a vialAfter giving birth to her daughter in 2016, Kathryn Whitehead (right), associate professor of chemical and biomedical engineering in the College of Engineering, grew curious about the properties of breast milk. As she began researching the topic, she learned of the millions of living cells present in every milliliter.

“When a child consumes breast milk, they are also consuming their mother’s cells,” Whitehead said.

Although human cells are one of the least studied components of breast milk, previous work has demonstrated their remarkable properties. These properties include traveling out of the gastrointestinal tract and integrating into an infant’s tissue, where the cells can proliferate and remain into adulthood.

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