For many years, officials have been puzzled by the fact that only about 10-20 percent of infants who are breastfed by HIV infected mothers catch the virus. Now, new research has uncovered some pretty compelling findings: That breast milk may act as a “secret weapon” against HIV.
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This week, researchers at Duke University identified a protein in breast milk that prevents infants from contracting HIV from their infected mothers. According to the study, a protein found in breast milk—called Tenascin-C, or TNC—neutralizes HIV and may shield babies from acquiring the virus from their mothers.
In a statement, the study’s senior author, Dr. Sallie Permar, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Duke University, said: “Even though we have antiretroviral drugs that can work to prevent mother-to-child transmission, not every pregnant woman is being tested for HIV. So there is still a need for alternative strategies to prevent mother-to-child transmission, which is why this work is important.”
According to UNICEF, about 330,000 children worldwide acquired HIV from their mothers through pregnancy or birth in 2011. While more research remains to be done, this discovery represents another promising new clue in the quest to fight HIV.