Antibacterial power of mother’s milk revealed

pharmafile | August 21, 2017 | News story | Research and Development, Sales and Marketing biotech, drugs, pharma, pharmaceutical 

Researchers from Vanderbilt University have discovered a previously unknown ability of a compound in mother’s milk to protect new-borns from infections. By taking their research in a new angle and studying the sugars present in mother’s milk, they found that in certain examples it was able to be an effective antibiotic against group B Strep.

Previous research had focused on the ability of proteins present in milk to be protective for babies but the research found that carbohydrates also play an important role. The study involved collecting human milk carbohydrates, oligosaccharides, from different donors and then adding the compounds to strep cultures to observe the effect.

What was found is that some milk samples had a double impact: they were able to break down bacterial biofilm that protects the infection and allows it to spread, and also were able to kill the bacteria.

Different samples exhibited different abilities, some were able to kill the bacteria directly, some were able to break down the biofilm only, some impacted both and there were samples that had no impact on the strep cultures.

“Our results show that these sugars have a one-two punch,” said Steven Townsend, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Vanderbilt University and director of the study. “First, they sensitize the target bacteria and then they kill them. Biologist sometimes call this ‘synthetic lethality’ and there is a major push to develop new antimicrobial drugs with this capability.”

This latter detail is a major part of the interest in the study, not least because, unlike most conventional antibiotics, the carbohydrates studied would not be damaging to the human body.

The study also expanded to test other infectious bacteria, including two of the six “ESKAPE” pathogens that are one of the major causes of hospital infections worldwide. Again, in these additional studies, the compounds derived from milk were shown to be an effective antibacterial agent.

The next step for the research is to winnow down exactly which carbohydrate molecules are producing the antibacterial results to determine whether antibiotics can be developed from the molecules.

Ben Hargreaves

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