You're More Like Your Mother Than You Know
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Photo of mother and childMothers who breast feed often joke that their milk is like liquid gold. Well, it may not be gold, but is just as valuable to a baby’s health. Not only are breast fed babies more resistant to disease and infections, they face lower rates of juvenile diabetes and cancer. Now we’re learning breast milk contains stem cells that become parts of a baby’s various organs.

We learned nearly a decade ago about stem cells in breast milk. They have a molecule on the surface called nestin which is indicative of adult multipotent stem cells. Multipotent are not totipotent which can become any cell type. However, these nestin positive multipotent stem cells do become liver and pancreatic cells as well as other tissues.

Even more surprising is the latest discovery. They found that the breast stem cells in a mouse pup left its stomach, travelled into the blood, and became a functional part of the pup’s various organs.

Scientists traced the stem cells by creating lactating mice that produce a protein to make their cells glow red. These mice were given pups to nurse. When the pups became adults, researchers found red glowing cells in the blood, and in tissues such as brain, thymus, pancreas, spleen and kidneys. And these were functioning cells. The ones in the brain looked like neurons and the ones in liver made albumin.

Scientists now wonder if the stem cells are there to create a tolerance for the mother’s milk or do they play a role in normal growth? What this discovery does present is an ethical source of multipotent stem cells, non-invasively and sustainably. That removes significant hurdles for certain researchers. Talk about owing our moms… this would be a biggie.

For more information…

Human breast milk is a rich source of multipotent mesenchymal stem cells.
S. Patki, S. Kadam, V. Chandra, and R. Bhonde
Hum Cell. 2010 May;23(2):35-40. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-0774.2010.00083.x.

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