Health Care

Sugars in Mother's Milk Exhibit Antibacterial Properties

Sugars in Mother's Milk Exhibit Antibacterial Properties”

In the past, scientists have concentrated their search for the source of its antibacterial properties on the proteins it contains. He also explained that one of the best things about these antibiotics in human milk is that they are non-toxic - something that traditional antibiotics are not.

In their quest for insights, Townsend and team were motivated by the growing problem of antibiotic resistance in bacteria, which the US government estimates is responsible for about 23,000 deaths each year.

Researchers, instead of searching for proteins in human milk with antimicrobial properties, looked at the sugars.

"When bacteria want to harm us, they produce this gooey protective substance", Townsend explains, "which allows them to thwart our defence mechanisms".

"In most women, the group B strep that is present will not cause illness".

"Our results show that these sugars have a one-two punch". Dr. Townsend explained why, in a press release, "For most of the last century, biochemists have argued that proteins are most important and sugars are an afterthought".

It is often recommended that mother's milk should be the first food given to a new-born as it contains all the essential minerals and nutrients that they require for their growth and development.

In addition, the team says its preliminary, still-in-progress data indicates that milk sugars can make bacteria more susceptible to common antibiotics - such as penicillin and erythromycin. "Far less is known about the function of sugars and, as a trained glycoprotein chemist, I wanted to explore their role".

The team collected human milk carbohydrates, also known as oligosaccharides, and profiled them using mass spectrometry.

In the current study, his team members are testing more than a dozen additional milk samples to see if they can replicate their first round of results. Under a microscope they found the sugars not only killed bacteria, but disintegrated the biofilm strep uses to protect itself.

In a pilot study, Townsend's lab collected five samples.

"As carbohydrate chemists, we knew from previous research that milk carbohydrates are protective against other bacteria, so we figured there would be a chance they would be active against group B strep, too", says Townsend, who is at Vanderbilt University.

Almost 10 years ago, researchers had found that pregnant women play host to group B strep bacteria and the pathogen can be transmitted to infants through breastfeeding. In another, they were moderately effective at killing the strep, while in the remaining three samples the carbohydrates weren't very effective.

Said Townsend: "Our results show that these sugars have a one-two punch...."

So far, two broke down the bacterial biofilms and killed the bacteria, four broke down the biofilms but did not kill the bacteria and two killed the bacteria without breaking down the biofilms, researchers said. "Biologist sometimes call this "synthetic lethality" and there is a major push to develop new antimicrobial drugs with this capability". Breast milk sugars could successfully handle tow of these pathogens as well as numerous other bacterial infections found some of the follow up studies.

The researchers are also working identify the specific types of carbohydrate molecules responsible for the antibacterial effects they have discovered. The Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, the National Center for Research Resources, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, and the Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology supported the research.

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