Study: Protein in Mother's Milk May Prevent HIV Transmission to Infants

    12 November, 2013


    From VOA Learning English, this is the Health Report.

    Hundreds of thousands of children become infected with the AIDS virus every year. These boys and girls are born to mothers who have HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus. Infection takes place during pregnancy or from breastfeeding.

    Recently, scientists identified a protein in breast milk that suppresses the virus, the protein may even protect babies from becoming infected. Now, experts say the discovery could lead to new ways to protect babies whose mothers are infected with HIV.

    Study: Protein in Mother's Milk May Prevent HIV Transmission to Infants
    FILE - Breastfeeding

    To prevent Infection, doctors give Anti-retroviral drugs to both mothers and their babies, that has greatly reduced the number of infections. But experts say that even without anti-AIDS drugs, only a small percentage of babies become infected through breast milk.

    Sallie Permar is a professor of pediatrics and immunology at Duke University in North Carolina. She says, breastfeed babies appear to resist infection.

    "It is actually remarkable that despite the infant being exposed to the virus multiple times daily for up to two years of their life, actually only 10 percent of those babies will become infected," said Permar.

    The low rate of the infection was of great interest to researchers, including Sallie Permar. She led an effort to identify a substance in breast milk that may protect babies from infection.

    Her team directed its attention to a protein called Tenacin-C, also called TNC. It is known to be involved in the process of healing wounds. But what purpose it serves in breast milk is not known.

    The researchers exposed the TNC protein from breast milk of uninfected women to HIV, the protein linked up to the virus and made it harmless.

    Antiretroviral drugs remain effective in limiting the passing of HIV from mother to baby. But professor Permar and her team suggest that TNC could be used in places where costly drug treatments are often not available.

    "The issues are access to the drugs as well as monitoring. There are issues of toxicity and anti-retroviral drug resistance. And so we think alternative strategies may be needed to completely eliminate infant transmission," said Permar.

    She suggests that TNC could be given to babies before breastfeeding to provide additional protection against HIV. She adds that the protein is safe, because it is already in natural part of human milk. This may avoid the problem of HIV becoming resistant to antiretroviral drugs.

    The team reported its findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    And that is the Health Report from VOA Learning English. I'm June Simms.