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Health Team

Duke study: Antibodies in breast milk can help neutralize HIV

Posted May 23, 2012 7:31 p.m. EDT

— Breast milk contains antibodies that can help neutralize the HIV virus that causes AIDS, researchers at Duke University Medical Center said Wednesday.

The discovery may have implications for the development of an HIV vaccine.

The study, which was published last week in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS One, studied immune cells in the breast milk of mothers in Malawi who are infected with HIV. The cells, called "B-cells," generate neutralizing antibodies that can inhibit the HIV virus.

HIV can be spread from mother to child through breast milk, yet such a transmission is only known to happen to one in 10 nursing mothers.

"That is remarkable because nursing children are exposed multiple times each day during the first year of life," said senior study author Sallie Permar, who is an assistant professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases at Duke. 

The discovery that breast milk might help neutralize the virus is significant, researchers say, because it means that getting more B-cells to produce helpful antibodies could lead to the development of an HIV vaccine.