A new study has found that sugars in breast milk are capable of killing bacteria that are usually resistant to antibiotics in babies.


According to the research, published by the American Chemical Society (ASC), the breast milk sugars, known as human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), were found to be effective in containing the spread of group B Streptococcus (GBS).

Bacteria known as GBS are a common cause of blood infections, meningitis and stillbirth in newborns.

While GBS-related infections are often treated or prevented with antibiotics, the bacteria are increasingly becoming resistant to drugs, thereby raising concerns.


To arrive at their findings, the researchers extracted the sugars from the breast milk of selected nursing mothers and isolated them.

The isolated sugars were thereafter tested on human cells already infected with GBS.

Similarly, the researchers also tested the sugars on pregnant mice, using a laboratory.


Findings revealed that the breast milk sugars were able to kill off bacterial infections in human tissues. It also showed that the sugars stopped the spread of the infection in the selected mice.

The researchers said the study further highlight the significance of breast milk in the growth of newborns.

The study is being presented at the 2021 edition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) conference holding between August 22 and 26.

Rebecca Moore, lead researcher and a graduate student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said the study followed rising cases of resistance to GBS among children.


“Our lab has previously shown that mixtures of HMOs isolated from the milk of several different donor mothers have antimicrobial and antibiofilm activity against GBS,” she said.

“We found that HMOs were able to completely inhibit bacterial growth in both the macrophages and the membranes, so we very quickly turned to looking at a mouse model.

“In five different parts of the reproductive tract, we saw significantly decreased GBS infection with HMO treatment.

“We concluded that GBS is producing lactic acid that inhibits growth, and then when we add the oligosaccharide, the beneficial species can use it as a food source to overcome this suppression.”


On his part, Steven Townsend, the co-researcher, said HMOs could become substitute for antibiotics in adults and babies in the future.

“HMOs have been around as long as humans have, and bacteria have not figured them out. Presumably, that’s because there are so many in milk, and they’re constantly changing during a baby’s development,” he said.

“But if we could learn more about how they work, it’s possible that 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.”


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