UPDATED: Mothers' breast milk may carry HIV fighting tool

Duke University scientists have uncovered another tool that they think will help defeat the HIV virus: antibodies in breast milk. Read the research details online in PLoS One.

Before you go there, here's the short version: Researchers studying HIV-infected mothers in Malawi determined that B cells (immune cells) appear to generate neutralizing antibodies in mothers milk that could block the virus itself. It is true, a vaccine or anti-HIV drug may be years away based on this finding. But the scientists see their discovery as opening the door to a possible drug or vaccine to boost that immune response in order to encourage more production of the antibodies and defeat the virus.

This isn't beneficial for all variations of HIV. Rather, it specifically involves HIV-1, a version of the virus that mothers transmit to their children through breastfeeding. (The researchers point out that one in 10 HIV-infected nursing mothers pass the virus to their babies.)

Senior author Sallie Permar, an assistant professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases, said in a statement that her team's work validates the push to find ways to boost the B cells' production of antibodies to neutralize the virus. But rather than stop with infected mothers and their children, they said they see the same concept as also helping to address adult-to-adult transmission of the virus.

"The antibodies we found in breast milk indicate that these same antibodies are able to be elicited in other tissues," Permar explained. 

Editors note: This story has been updated in the second paragraph to accurately reflect that B cells are immune cells that appear to generate HIV-neutralizing antibodies in mothers milk. We regret the error.

- read the release
- check out the study