PROTEINS, carbohydrates and vitamins are all on the menu for a breastfed baby. Now it seems you can add stem cells to that list. Evidence is piling up that both breast milk and breast tissue contain embryonic-like stem cells.
That might mean we will soon have access to a source of stem cells without destroying embryos. This would be a boon as stem cells can turn into any type of human tissue, making them useful for treating degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or for regrowing damaged heart muscle.
In 2011 Foteini Hassiotou at the University of Western Australia in Crawley and colleagues found stem cells in lactating breast tissue and breast milk. When they grew the breast milk cells they turned into the three types of cells from which all tissues and organs develop â€“ just like human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) do.
Hassiotou has since found this “pluripotency” in many more breast milk samples and thinks that breast milk stem cells could one day replace those from embryos. In one study, her team looked at fresh breast milk from more than 70 healthy breastfeeding women. They found that BMSCs expressed several genes that are also found in hESCs and help them replicate. Cultured samples also grew into different tissues including bone, neuron, heart and pancreatic cells
In some cases, the team found that 30 per cent of all cells in breast milk were stem cells. In studies with monkeys and mice the cells were shown to pass into the bloodstream.