Collaboration to investigate breast milk for COVID-19 protection
26 Mar 2020 --- An immediate investigation into the safety and protective functions of breast milk as it relates to the coronavirus pandemic has been initiated by the University of California San Diego (UC San Diego) and the Family Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation (FLRF). FLRF has donated CHF 100,000 (US$102,000) to initiate studies addressing whether COVID-19 is transmitted via breast milk and whether breast milk can protect infants from COVID-19. The researchers also hope to identify human milk bioactives that help protect the body from the virus. This knowledge may then potentially be leveraged to develop novel antiviral therapeutics.
“We envisage those findings to be disseminated to doctors and health professionals globally in an expedited review process. We hope that key scientific journals and supra-governmental bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF would work together with the experts in an expedited manner to quickly disseminate reliable and safe information to doctors and health professionals. This will allow them to supply much-needed counsel to breastfeeding mothers everywhere,” Dr. Katharina Lichtner, Family Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation’s Managing Director, tells NutritionInsight.
The parties say the investigation could lead to a new platform for launching fast, coordinated investigations to enable a quicker response in future health crises.
“We already know breast milk contains properties that help protect infants from diseases such as diarrhea and pulmonary infections. Now in collaboration with other human milk research labs, we urgently need to determine whether it has antiviral properties that could protect infants from COVID-19. We also need to ensure that human milk does not act as vector for the virus,” says Dr. Lars Bode, Principal Investigator at UC San Diego and Director of UC San Diego’s Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation Mother-Milk-Infant Center of Research Excellence (LRF MOMI CORE).
Calls for further funding
The researchers at LRF MOMI CORE will also work with peers in HIV research to learn from past experiences with a different virus and gain expedited insights. UC San Diego has also put out an urgent request for more funding.
The project is in collaboration with other groups, and FLRF hopes that its example will also inspire others to contribute much-needed funds without delay. “As a specialist in the field, we feel it’s important for us to be among the first to respond to this urgent need,” says Dr. Lichtner.
The donation will help scientists immediately mobilize to generate critical data that could round out current guidance from global health organizations. Reliable, updated information is crucial for health professionals to both protect the practice of breastfeeding and ensure the health of breastfeeding mothers and their children during this pandemic.
Dr. Lichtner explains that FLRF’s donation of CHF 100,000 is an amount that the foundation’s internal processes will allow to be donated “immediately and un-bureaucratically.”
“As speed is of the essence in this instance, this is exactly what we did. It’s too early to determine whether this could change, and depends on many different aspects like the speed of discovery, other donations, and dynamic of the pandemic and how it may impact mother and child health,” she explains.
She adds that the foundation’s focus is on the optimal health of mother and children and to protect breastfeeding if that is the right thing to do. FLRF will stay in close contact with its partners over the next few weeks, aiming to develop an optimal strategy.
An unknown road ahead
Dr. Lichtner is unable to predict an outlook window for results but states that the team is working with top global experts who have access to talented personnel and research facilities. “They have the best possible chance to find answers fast, and we aim to support them as best we can,” she states.
LRF MOMI CORE was established in 2017 to learn how breast milk can help treat and prevent some of the world’s most deadly diseases. The foundation says that the center is especially well-positioned to immediately launch these urgently needed investigations together with other research organizations worldwide.
A slew of research backs up a range of purported benefits of breast milk. It can offer a variety of benefits that formula cannot yet replicate, with a recent study finding that it can help prevent heart disease in premature babies. In separate research, human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) are being investigated for both babies’ and adults’ digestive health.
In recent weeks, some members of the nutrition industry are looking inward to see if they might be able to offer insights into the fight against COVID-19. Cardax is seeking strategic collaborations to develop astaxanthin for the treatment of COVID-19, stating that astaxanthin may hold promise for boosting the immune system and reducing the extreme inflammatory response. Meanwhile, Australian biotechnology company Marinova, highlighted that it has previously examined the effect of fucoidan – bioactive seaweed compounds – on coronaviruses.
By Katherine Durrell
To contact our editorial team please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Subscribe now to receive the latest news directly into your inbox.