photo by Jessie McClain
I have been following a Lactnet discussion of a Finnish study by M. Pesonen et al. published in 2006 on exclusive breastfeeding and atopy. Since I cannot join in on the discussion, I thought I'd use this blog to share my thoughts on this particular study and how this does relate to the patenting of human milk components. One of the first things I usually do when reading a research paper on "exclusive" breastfeeding is to see how the authors define exclusive. In this study exclusive breastfeeding included the use of water supplementation and vitamins. From my perspective (and I believe there are other IBCLCs who feel likewise) that would mean that these infants were not truly "exclusively" breastfed. Water and vitamins means that substances other than human milk were given to these babies. The CDC has changed their definition of exclusive breastfeeding within the past two years. They no longer consider exclusive breastfeeding to include water supplementation. Depending on the brand, vitamins may have dairy, soy, or other allergens in them. Is this a valid study regarding exclusive breastfeeding, particularly when we know that the newborn gut is effected by very small amounts of foreign proteins and/or chemicals? It doesn't take much to change the gut flora of the newborn and therefore change the dynamics of health and illness. Of interest is a statement made in this study, "when supplemented human milk had been needed twice, exclusive breastfeeding was considered terminated, and the child was gradually weaned to cow's milk-based formula (Tutteli, Valio, Helsinki Finland)." Exclusive breastfeeding mothers who needed supplemental human milk more than twice had their infants weaned to a specific infant formula. Interesting. Why a specific infant formula? Why not a choice of infant formulas? This was from a study in the early 1980's. Did the authors get their data from Valio?
I find it difficult to understand the lactation profession's reluctance to believe in human milk, to understand the dynamics of the infant formula industry in its quest for more consumers. Prebiotics and probiotics are seen as the answer to allergies. These micro-organisms are being put into infant formulas to help infants tolerate the gut damage done by ingestion of foreign proteins. Human milk is prebiotic and probiotic. Was this study in anyway funded by Valio? Nothing states this and yet it looks like they only used a specific formula manufactured by Valio.
I find it interesting that Ciba-Geigy Corporation owns a series of the same patent called, "Polypeptide factors from colostrum." (one in 1986, 1992, 1994--patents are held for 20 years and many companies and inventors will have a series of the same patent in order to hold down the patent for extra time). They are patenting on a method to extract IgE-BS from human colostrum (human not cow). Why? as a treatment for allergy. Ciba-Geigy became part of Novartis (Gerber use to be part of Novartis) and in 1997 they filed for a patent called, "Methods and kits for determining the levels of IgE-BS." The 1986 Ciba-Geigy patent states, "Recent prospective studies further indicate that exclusive breast-feeding protects the high risk infants against allergic disease." So in 1986 a huge corporation was willing to own a patent that uses IgE from human colostrum to treat allergy. But the lactation profession is still debating the allergy issue??
Agennix, a company that makes recombinant human lactoferrin (use of this genetically engineered human milk component is based on human milk research) has a patent called, "Oral lactoferrin in the treatment of respiratory disorders." The patent was filed 2003 and will be a treatment for asthma. In 2004 Agennix received a SBIR (Small Business Innovative Research) grant from the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Disease. Agennix's strategic partners are Baylor College of Medicine (who helped create this company), John Hopkins, University of Texas, Avecia, DSM--maker of ARA oils for Martek Bioscience, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
What do these institutions and corporations know that the lactation profession seems to not know? Agennix's patent states, "lactoferin is an essential growth factor for both B & T lymnphocytes." Sounds like the definition of stem cells. Oh yes, I forgot that can't be because we just discovered that human milk has stem cells in it.
So the debate rages on. Meanwhile your friendly multi-national corporations continue to patent human milk components for a wide variety of diseases, cancers, and yes...allergies.
Copyright 2008 Valerie W. McClain