High Levels of TRAIL Protein in Breast Milk Might Contribute to Anticancer Activity

Press Release from the Journal of Human Lactation

Los Angeles, CA (April 23, 2012)  The benefits of breast milk are well known, but why breastfeeding protects against various forms of cancer remains a mystery. A new study in the Journal of Human Lactation (published by SAGE) found high levels of cancer-fighting TNF-related apoptosis inducing ligand (TRAIL) in human milk, which might be one source of breast milk’s anticancer activity.

Researchers took samples of colostrum, the first milk available to newborns, and of mature breast milk from new mothers. Researchers then obtained samples of blood from healthy women, and various ready-to-feed infant formulas. The colostrum, mature breast milk, blood and formula were then all tested to measure their level of TRAIL. The researchers found that colostrum and breast milk contained 400- and 100-fold, respectively, higher levels of TRAIL than blood. No TRAIL was detected in the formula.

“The important role of breastfeeding in the prevention of cer­tain childhood cancers, such as lymphoblastic leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, and neuroblastoma, has been previously demonstrated,” wrote the authors. “However, endogenous soluble TRAIL represents a strong candidate to explain the overall biological effect of breastfeeding against cancer.”

Mothers chosen to participate in the study were eligible because they exhibited no signs of eclampsia, infection, or fever, and delivered healthy newborns at term.

The authors wrote, “To our knowledge, this is the first time that TRAIL has been measured in colostrum and human breast milk. This study has revealed much higher TRAIL concentrations in colos­trum and breast milk compared to the levels of circulating serum TRAIL.”

The article entitled “Human Colostrum and Breast Milk Contain High Levels of TNF-related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand (TRAIL)” by Riccardo Davanzo, MD, PhD; Giorgio Zauli, MD, PhD; Lorenzo Monasta, MSc, DSc; Liza Vecchi Brumatti, MSc; Maria Valentina Abate, MD; Giovanna Ventura, MD; Erika Rimondi, MSc, PhD; Paola Secchiero, MSc, PhD; and Sergio Demarini, MD from the Journal of Human Lactation is available free for a limited time at: http://jhl.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/02/21/0890334412441071.full.pdf+html

Media may contact the author of the study at riccardo.davanzo@gmail.com

Riccardo Davanzo, M.D., Ph.D., is currently a consultant in neonatology at the Istituto Burlo Garofolo,  Trieste, Italy. His main areas of scientific interest are low-tech intervention in neonatal care (essential newborn care, kangaroo care), neonatal weight loss in the term healthy newborn, breastfeeding (medications for the nursing mother, breastfeeding in the NICU, training of health workers on breastfeeding).

Between 1987 and 1991, Dr. Davanzo took part in an international health cooperation programme in Maputo, Mozambique. He contributed to the preparation of documents for the World Health Organization: Essential Newborn Care (1996), Kangaroo Mother Care. A Practical Guideline (2003), Acceptable Medical Reasons for Use of Breast-milk Substitutes (2009).

Dr. Davanzo is a member of the International Society for Research in Human Milk and Lactation (ISRHML) and coordinator of the Italian Network of Trainers of Health Workers on Breastfeeding (RIFAM).


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