​Breast Milk Prevents HIV Transmission In Mice

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July 8, 2012

The University of North Carolina School of Medicine has found that breast milk blocks HIV transmission in mice, which could be good news for over 33 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS today.

Researchers say that more than 15 percent of new infections occur in children, and without treatment, only 65 percent of HIV-infected children will live until their first birthday, and fewer than half will make it to the age of two.

The University of North Carolina School of Medicine explores this paradox in a humanized mouse model, demonstrating that breast milk has a strong virus killing effect and protects against oral transmission of HIV.

“This study provides significant insight into the amazing ability of breast milk to destroy HIV and prevent its transmission,” said J. Victor Garcia, PhD, senior author on the study and professor of medicine in the UNC Center for Infectious Diseases and the UNC Center for AIDS Research. “It also provides new leads for the isolation of natural products that could be used to combat the virus.”

Garcia and colleagues pioneered the humanized “BLT” mouse model, which is created by introducing human bone marrow, liver and thymus tissues into animals without an immune system of their own. Humanized BLT mice have a fully functioning human immune system and can be infected with HIV in the same manner as humans.

In the study, the researchers first determined that the oral cavity and upper digestive tract of BLT mice have the same cells that affect oral transmission of HIV in humans and then successfully transmitted the virus to the mice through these pathways. When the mice were given virus in whole breast milk from HIV-negative women, however, the virus could not be transmitted.