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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 August 2005, 09:36 GMT 10:36 UK
Move to commercialise breast milk
Image of breastfeeding
Milk banks generaly operate on a not-for-profit basis
A US firm is looking to commercialise breast milk by selling it to hospitals for the treatment of sick babies.

Prolacta Bioscience, a small company just outside Los Angeles, also wants to carry out research to develop breast milk-based therapies.

Breast milk, with its minerals, digestive enzymes and antibodies, has long been credited with keeping babies healthy and boosting intelligence.

But experts said it would put pressure on mothers to sell their milk.

Until now breast milk donation in the US and UK has largely been confined to a handful of non-profit milk banks that collect milk on a local basis to provide it to premature and sick infants whose mothers struggle to breast feed.

I don't think it would work in the UK as it would prove too expensive for hospitals
Rosie Dodds, of the National Childbirth Trust

But Prolacta is aiming to buy donated breast milk from independent milk banks and hospitals across the US, pasteurise it and sell it back to hospitals to treat low-birth weight babies.

It is also looking to supply it for babies with heart defects, who need surgery and are at risk of infection, and children who are being given chemotherapy for cancer.

And the firm wants to analyse the different components of breast milk - there are more than 100,000 although scientists only know what a few thousand do - to see if breast milk therapies can treat disease common to newborn babies.


Prolacta chief executive Elena Medo said: "To our knowledge this is the first and only facility of its kind in the world.

"Human breast milk is really an incredible therapy. Let's try to develop processes where we can preserve every bit of its nutrients and the potent antiviral and all of its diseases fighting properties."

But the Human Milk Banking Association of North America questioned the "buying and selling" of human milk.

It said introducing the profit motive might pressure women and medical institutions to provide milk to a bank regardless of the needs of their own babies.

Rosie Dodds, policy research officer at the National Childbirth Trust, said she could understand the concerns.

But added: "There is a need for more mothers to come forward to give their milk, the whole issue needs to be valued more. I can see both sides of the argument.

"However, I don't think it would work in the UK as it would prove too expensive for hospitals."

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