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The findings suggest that it may be possible to isolate the compounds in breast milk that destroy HIV and use these to combat the virus that causes AIDS, the University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Medicine researchers said.
More than 15 percent of new HIV infections occur among children. Left untreated, only 65 percent of infected babies survive until their first birthday, and less than 50 percent reach the age of 2, the study authors pointed out in a news release from the University of North Carolina Health Care.
While breast-feeding by HIV-infected mothers is believed to cause a large number of HIV infections in infants, most breast-fed infants do not become infected, despite prolonged and repeated exposure to the virus, researchers have found.
In order to investigate this contradiction, the UNC researchers used humanized mice, which have a fully functioning human immune system and can be infected with HIV in the same manner as humans.
The mice did not become infected when given HIV in whole breast milk from women without HIV, according to the report published June 14 in the online journal PLoS Pathogens.
"This study provides significant insight into the amazing ability of breast milk to destroy HIV and prevent its transmission," senior author J. Victor Garcia, a professor of medicine in the UNC Center for Infectious Diseases and the UNC Center for AIDS Research, said in the news release.
The research could lead to new ways to prevent HIV transmission, the study authors suggested.
"No child should ever be infected with HIV because it is breast-fed. Breast-feeding provides critical nutrition and protection from other infections, especially where clean water for infant formula is scarce," Garcia said. "Understanding how HIV is transmitted to infants and children despite the protective effects of milk will help us close this important door to the spread of AIDS."
It is important to note that research conducted on animals does not necessarily produce the same results in humans.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: University of North Carolina Health Care, news release, June 14, 2012