Substance in breast milk kills cancer cells

April 19, 2010
Microscope images that show HAMLET's interaction with biological membranes. Using a red, fluorescent substance that shows the location of HAMLET, the researchers can clearly demonstrate that it binds to the cell membrane of a tumor cell. Credit: University of Gothenburg

A substance found in breast milk can kill cancer cells, reveal studies carried out by researchers at Lund University and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Although the special substance, known as HAMLET (Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made LEthal to ), was discovered in breast milk several years ago, it is only now that it has been possible to test it on humans. Patients with cancer of the bladder who were treated with the substance excreted dead in their urine after each treatment, which has given rise to hopes that it can be developed into medication for cancer care in the future.

Discovered by chance

HAMLET was discovered by chance when researchers were studying the antibacterial properties of breast milk. Further studies showed that HAMLET comprises a protein and a fatty acid that are both found naturally in . So far, however, it has not been proven that the HAMLET complex is spontaneously formed in the milk. It is speculated, however, that HAMLET can form in the acidic environment of the babies´ stomachs. Laboratory experiments have shown that HAMLET kills 40 different types of cancer, and the researchers are now going on to study its effect on , tumours in the mucous membranes and brain tumours. Importantly, HAMLET kills only cancer cells and does not affect healthy cells.

Studying the integration of the substance

Researchers at the University of Gothenburg are focusing on how HAMLET can be taken up into tumour cells. The researchers, Roger Karlsson, Maja Puchades and Ingela Lanekoff, are attempting to gain an in-depth understanding of how the substance interacts with cell membranes, and their findings were recently published in the prestigious journal PLoS One.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

New bowel cancer drug target discovered

October 17, 2017
Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute have discovered a new drug target for bowel cancer that is specific to tumour cells and therefore less toxic than conventional therapies.

Many pelvic tumors in women may have common origin—fallopian tubes

October 17, 2017
Most—and possibly all—ovarian cancers start, not in ovaries, but instead in the fallopian tubes attached to them.

Researchers find novel mechanism of resistance to anti-cancer drugs

October 17, 2017
The targeted anti-cancer therapies cetuximab and panitumumab are mainstays of treatment for advanced colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. However, many patients have tumors ...

Using artificial intelligence to improve early breast cancer detection

October 17, 2017
Every year 40,000 women die from breast cancer in the U.S. alone. When cancers are found early, they can often be cured. Mammograms are the best test available, but they're still imperfect and often result in false positive ...

Biology of childhood brain tumor subtypes offers clues to precision treatments

October 17, 2017
Researchers investigating pediatric low-grade gliomas (PLGG), the most common type of brain tumor in children, have discovered key biological differences in how mutated genes combine with other genes to drive this childhood ...

New assay may boost targeted treatment of non-Hodgkin lymphoma

October 17, 2017
Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) is an aggressive cancer and the most frequently diagnosed non-Hodgkin lymphoma worldwide (nearly 40% of cases). Recent advancements indicate that both the prognosis and choice of treatment ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

THoKling
not rated yet Apr 19, 2010
Cancer cells are highly unstable compared to normal cells, so it's possible that normal cells suffering from a weakened condition may be susceptible to the veracity of HAMLET depending upon how it interacts with biological markers.
Shootist
Apr 19, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.