STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Thursday May 18, 2017 – The accidental discovery of the effects of a compound found in breast milk could mean a more effective and targeted way of killing cancerous cells, Swedish researchers say.
Scientists from the University of Lund have had promising results from trials of the compound, nicknamed “Hamlet,” on bladder cancer patients.
The patients injected with the compound began to shed dead tumour cells through their urine within days in early trials.
As an added bonus, the breast milk compound targets cancer cells alone, offering an alternative to chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments that damage healthy, as well as cancerous, cells in the body.
Professor Catharina Svanborg discovered the substance by chance while researching antibiotics.
“To our amazement, when we added this compound of milk, the tumour cells died. It was a totally serendipitous discovery,” the immunologist told The Daily Mail.
Svanborg said she was looking for novel antimicrobial agents, of which new breast milk is a rich source.
In one of the research team’s experiments, human cells and bacteria were required, leading to the practical choice to use human tumour cells, she added.
Svanborg went on to explain that breast milk contains the alpha-lactalbumin protein that becomes a cancer-fighting agent inside the stomach, leaving healthy cells unharmed. The compound avoids the cancerous cells outer defences and then targets the mitochondria and the cell nucleus.
By depriving the cell of energy from the source, the process reprograms the cell so that it weakens and dies.
Professor Svanborg said that there was “something magical about Hamlet’s ability to target tumour cells and kill them.”
The researchers believe that the breast milk compound could also help bowel and cervical cancer patients. Further trials are scheduled to test the promising benefits of the compound.