The breast milk of mothers that have been infected by the coronavirus contains valuable antibodies for the virus, researchers of the Amsterdam University Medical Centre divulged this week. Even after the milk was treated under high pressure, the antibodies remained active, possibly making it viable as a vaccine.
Wageningen researchers contributed to this research. The Food Quality & Design chair group collaborates with the Amsterdam UMC to study how breast milk can be made safe. ‘The current method of heating the breast milk to 62.5 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes kills all pathogens, but also many useful proteins such as antibodies,’ says researcher Kasper Hettinga. ‘PhD candidate Eva Kontopodi, whom I supervise in collaboration with Amsterdam UMC, is studying how the milk may be heated smartly. She also studies non-thermal treatment, such as pressure, UV-irradiation and ultrasonic sound, to see if this will yield safe breastmilk that still contains beneficial proteins.’
A preliminary analysis carried out by Kontopodi last year showed that pressurising the milk kills many bacteria, whilst minimising the damage to beneficial proteins. Hettinga: ‘Thus, we submitted the breastmilk that the Amsterdam UMC researchers collected to high pressure using equipment and the expertise of Food & Biobased Research. Following this, the milk was tested for its virus-impeding qualities and corona antibodies. This made it clear that traditionally heated milk lost its anti-retroviral effect, while milk that had been pressurised retained this effect to the same degree as milk that remained untreated.’
Further studies are needed, but it appears that the breastmilk of women that were infected with the coronavirus is a viable ingredient for a vaccine. Amsterdam UMC now calls on a thousand women to donate breastmilk. This will enable researchers to determine what percentage of the milk contains antibodies for COVID-19.