Just one more reason to confirm that moms are superheroes. In a recent study, scientists accidentally discovered that a mother’s breast milk contains a substance that kills tumor cells. Trials in patients with bladder cancer have yielded promising results and researchers are confident that “Hamlet”, the cancer curing compound in breast milk, will also help tackle bowel cancer and cervical cancer.
Additionally, Hamlet hones in on cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed – so it has none of the debilitating side effects of chemotherapy.
‘There’s something magical about Hamlet’s ability to target tumor cells and kill them,’ said Professor Catharina Svanborg, an immunologist at Lund University in Sweden.
Professor Svanborg made the chance discovery that the substance kills tumor cells when working on antibiotics. She said human breast milk contained a protein called alpha-lactalbumin, which is transformed into a cancer-fighting agent when in the gut.
“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. To our amazement, when we added this compound of milk, the tumor cells died. It was a totally serendipitous discovery.”
The substance attacks cancer cells in numerous ways – first evading the cell’s outer defenses, then targeting the ‘power station’ mitochondria and the ‘instruction manual’ nucleus. These actions cut off the cell’s energy source and force it to commit suicide, in a process called apoptosis.
Early trials in patients with bladder cancer show those injected with Hamlet start shedding dead tumor cells in their urine within days. A full-scale trial pitting Hamlet against a placebo ‘dummy drug’ is now planned.
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