Can breast milk antibodies help develop Covid-19 cure? Researcher asks lactating moms to donate for study
New moms who have recovered from Covid-19 could help in the quest for potential treatment against the disease. Dr Rebecca Powell, a scientist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, is spearheading the hunt. She recently put out a Facebook post requesting new mothers to donate breast milk for her research.
She believes that studies on breast milk from these women are crucial to answering two questions: Do its components protect babies? Can it help develop new treatments, similar to how blood antibodies are deployed in plasma therapy?
The response to her requests is encouraging. “There is a lot of lactating people out there that are getting infected and would be ready and willing to donate milk — I can tell you because I have hundreds of emails of people who want to participate, and many of them have said they had highly suspected infection or a positive test," Powell tells VICE News.
"They are out there, and I do not think it should be overlooked,” she adds, saying she is willing to pay $5 for each ounce of milk from healthy, lactating women in the city. Those residing outside the city can also mail their samples, provided they have had a brush with the virus.
Her request comes after a small but promising experiment, in which she analyzed breast milk from 15 new mothers who survived the infection. She found that 13 or 80% of them had developed antibodies against the virus, prompting to dig out more information. This study will be published in the coming days.
"Overall, these data indicate that there is strong Covid-19 immune response in the milk after infection in the majority of individuals," she tells Business Insider. Her initial study, however, does not say that these antibodies protect babies from the infection, but Powell hopes her research will investigate the possibility.
Once she collects and brings human milk to her lab, she plans to look for antibodies against the virus. If the samples contain them, she will fish out information on the types of antibodies they produce and if they can fight the infection.
Though mothers pass on pathogen-killing antibodies to newborn babies through breast milk, the science is not well-studied. "It was never done with SARS, it was never done with MERS, and even for flu, which is so well-studied."
"The data on milk protection is actually, really sparse, unfortunately," Powell tells Vice News. Her study, however, will depend on the funding she receives. She also thinks milk antibodies can do much better than blood antibodies used in plasma therapy. The former is less prone to degradation.
Human milk is magic. They do more than just helping infants grow, Lars Bode director of University of California San Diego’s MOMI CORE, tells Vice News.
"They really protect the infant and the mother as well from multiple different diseases, from certain pathogens, from bacteria, and viruses as well, and that's really where the story starts, why we're so interested in this topic when we come to coronavirus," he adds.