Nutritional properties of breast milk have been attracted the attention of humans for hundreds of years. Breastfeeding is accepted as one of the most important measures to encourage child health in many societies, and breast milk is now used in parallel with drug therapy. The milk of each species has a unique composition that evolved over millions of years to suit the needs of infants of that species. It contains a myriad of immunological, biochemical, and cellular components that have the potential to significantly alter newborn immunity and susceptibility to infection. Despite variation in milk composition, the main building blocks of milk are common to all mammals. Additionally, breast milk is thought to contain epithelial cells and immune cells. Recent breakthroughs have shown that breast milk is more heterogeneous than previously thought, furthermore, containing stem cells.
Valuable lecturer Prof. Dr. Gurkan OZTURK, in an interview with “Naked Scientists”, talked about the details of his scientific studies proving how stem cells in breast milk are passed on to offspring.
Although it has been known that there are stem cells in breast milk, it has been a matter of curiosity how they were passed on to the offspring. Ozturk described his work as follows:
“The method was quite straightforward. We had special mice whose body cells all producing a green colored fluorescent molecule called GFP. We took normal mouse pups from a normal mother and had them breastfed by these green fluorescent protein-producing foster mothers. The idea was that any cell in the foster breast milk would be labeled with these green fluorescents. So, after pups are fed with this breast milk, we were able to track down GFP-labeled cells in the growing pups at certain intervals with advanced microscopy. Then, we caught them. We confirmed that we observed the breast milk cells around the pups’ bodies under a microscope with molecular techniques”.
The results of mice experiments show that breast milk cells can live up to one year. Ozturk thinks that there is no reason for these cells to die unless there is a host vaccine reaction with the brain tissue rejection reaction. When the studies were examined, it was stated that the stem cells had settled in the bone marrow, moved to the injury sites and been involved in the repair process.
The most interesting subject in the interview was that what would be happening if breast milk taken from someone would be given to another one. Ozturk said “You and the other baby who shared your mother’s breast milk have the original maternal cells that came from your mother. Very interestingly, in Islam there is a concept of breast milk siblings; any babies who are fed by a mother are considered to be breast milk siblings. They are like sisters and brothers. They cannot even get married to each other. So, this is quite a curious case. I believe that understanding more and more about these breast milk cells will help us to define a new kind of kinship, not only in the brain, maybe in other tissues and organs “.
Click to access the interview recording.