Sugars in breast milk could be used to fight against antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections, scientists found.
Research suggests that breastfeeding can help protect against drug-resistant superbugs, leading experts to believe these sugars could actually be used instead of drugs like penicillin.
During the study, human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) were isolated from the milk of several mothers before testing it on human cells infected with group B Streptococcus (GBS).
GBS is a common type of bacteria that can cause blood poisoning, meningitis and stillbirth – and is growing increasingly resistant to drugs.
The results, presented at the American Chemical Society conference, claimed the breast milk sugars were able to kill off bacterial infections in human tissues in the laboratory.
Scientists also tested the sugars on pregnant mice and were found to stop the spread of infection.
The findings add to evidence of the importance of breast milk in protecting babies from infection and sickness and also suggest breast milk could be used to develop drugs, according to Mail Online.
Lead author Rebecca Moore, a graduate student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said: "In five different parts of the reproductive tract [in mice], we saw significantly decreased infection with HMO treatment."
Experts believe the sugars in breast milk can help prevent bacteria from ‘sticking’ to tissue surfaces.
Evidence also suggests that the substance can be used as a prebiotic by supporting the growth of good bacteria that act as the body's first defence against bad bacteria.
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Co-author Professor Steven Townsend said: "HMOs have been around as long as humans have, and bacteria have not figured them out.
"Presumably, that is because there are so many in milk, and they are constantly changing during a baby’s development.
"But if we could learn more about how they work, it is possible we could treat different types of infections with mixtures of HMOs, and maybe one day this could be a substitute for antibiotics in adults, as well as babies."
The US team now plans to identify the most useful sugars in breast milk – there are more than 200 types.
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