Could breast milk hold the answer to treating COVID-19? One researcher wants to find out.

By Kristi Pahr
April 21, 2020
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Breastfeeding parents have always known that there's something special about their milk. It's hard to argue that breast milk is as close to magic as our bodies can make, which is why one New York scientist is researching its potential as a treatment for coronavirus.

Breast milk is full of proteins and antibodies that pass from mother to baby to boost the immune response against pathogens a baby encounters. Rebecca Powell, Ph.D., human milk immunologist at New York City’s Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, wants to find out if there are helpful coronavirus antibodies in breast milk.

"I will test these antibodies to see if they are likely protective—for breastfed babies or even possibly as a treatment for severe COVID19 illness," Dr. Powell tells us.

JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

After asking for milk donations in a widely-viewed Reddit post, Dr. Powell says the response has been overwhelming. "There’s a lot of lactating people out there that are getting infected and would be ready and willing to donate milk—I can tell you because I have hundreds of emails of people who want to participate, and many of them have said they had highly suspected infection or a positive test,” Dr. Powell said in an interview with VICE News.

Dr. Powell plans to isolate antibodies and other proteins from donated samples and test a variety of factors–what class of antibodies are present, how resistant they are to degradation, and whether they have the potential to provide protection against coronavirus. Similar testing has been done on blood antibodies in the form of convalescent plasma treatments, and the results, while new, seem promising.

Lactating parents who are interested in donating milk will receive $5 per one-ounce sample. Any lactating parents in New York are invited to participate and if you are outside of NYC you must have had a positive COVID-19 test to be eligible. Dr. Powell asks that samples are frozen until pick up can be arranged and for more information, interested parties can contact Dr. Powell directly.

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