When infants are born, they are incredibly vulnerable to pathogens, but they receive loads of protection from their mother's breast milk. Not only are a mother's antibodies transferred to newborns through breastfeeding, but children who are breastfed also have a lowered risk for asthma and allergies.
Now new research looking in detail at how breast milk helps babies fight infection has discovered a new pathogen-trouncing weapon that's so powerful that it might represent a solution to the problem of antibiotic-resistant germs, reports The Guardian.
The finding, spearheaded by the National Physical Laboratory and University College London, is centered around a particular protein called lactoferrin. The protein operates like a disease-fighting tank, capable of firing little projectiles at bacteria, piercing their cell membranes and killing them almost instantly. Interestingly, this weaponized protein can also use the same method to kill many viruses and fungi too — a sort of do-it-all medicine.
Perhaps the most promising discovery surrounding lactoferrin is its ability to kill even antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. The method with which the protein attacks is so quick and so precise that it's difficult for pathogens to build up resistance to it. It's therefore possible that an engineered version of this protein's attack method could be used in the development of a broad spectrum cure for pathogens that have no other treatment. Better yet, it's a cure that may never become obsolete.
The problem of antibiotic resistance is a global epidemic, as more antibiotics become defunct each year — more than are newly discovered. It's a sort of evolutionary arms race, once which scientists have been steadily losing. According to Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, at least 10 new antibiotics need to be developed each decade just to keep pace.
Even so, she remains optimistic: “This is a global problem. I am optimistic about this. The science is crackable. It’s doable.”