Wednesday, January 9, 2008

milk banks, not for profit

Do non-profit milk banks only provide donor milk for babies and sick adults? My understanding from looking at the HMBANA website and from my emails to the head of that organization is that some donated milk goes for research. Which researcher and how much is decided by the director of the particular milk bank. HMBANA milk banks have provided donor milk for researchers that have patented human milk components. Although it seems to be only 3 times (and there are some 2000 human milk component patents and applications), all 3 times involve patenting of the real component as well as the gene construct of the component. All 3 patents have the possibility of being used in artificial baby milks. The components were HMFG (Human Milk Fat Globule and leptin). The HMFG patents are owned by John Hopkins Medical School (along with two other companies) and the leptin patent is owned by the Nemours Foundation (Dupont). What guarantee does the milk donor have that their milk will not be given/sold to researchers who plan to patent discoveries? One of the purposes of HMBANA is to support research of human milk. Therefore it would be extremely difficult to control whether a researcher will patent or not.
Some of the advisers to the HMBANA Board of Directors have been heavily funded by the infant formula industry. Does it effect policy and the direction of this non-profit organization? Maybe and maybe not. One of the questions I posed in my emails to HMBANA was how much of their donated milk went to babies and sick adults and how much went to researchers. The response was that a small amount went to researchers.
HMBANA is opposed to the selling of human milk for profit. HMBANA milk banks have had an increase in milk donations as well as an increase in distribution of its donor milk since the emergence of Prolacta Bioscience. It would seem that Prolacta has created more public awareness of human milk banking and both Prolacta and HMBANA are benefitting from the media exposure. It would seem logical that HMBANA might consider selling its donor milk to Prolacta. Many non-profit tissue and organ organizations sell their tissues and organs to for-profit companies (helps keep the non-profit economically afloat). I have been told by various members of the lactation community that HMBANA does not give/sell its donor milk to Prolacta.
HMBANA had a Conference a year or two ago with one of their main speakers being Catharine Svanborg, human milk researcher. She owns 5 patents on human milk components (HAMLET real and gmo). I wrote HMBANA, hoping that she disclosed this fact to her audience. I got no response from HMBANA. And since I did not go to this conference, I have no way of knowing what she did or did not disclose. Does HMBANA oppose patenting of human milk components? It doesn't seem like it.

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