Thursday, September 22, 2011

Nestle loves breastmilk....

Ah....yes, I thought the title would get ya!   They actually do breastmilk, the product.  Great stuff that breastmilk, good for what ails ya.  But don't tell parents or for that matter, mum's the word at Breastfeeding Conferences.  Heaven forbid, my god, what would happen if women and men really understood the significance of all this discovery and flag planting.  I will use thee in the name of Nestle, our bluebird of happiness.  Our provider of food, pharmaceuticals, and whatever else they wish to own--like water.
So lets get to the patent.  It is US Patent # 8,012,509 called, "Milk fractions and milk preparations for treating and/or preventing COX-2 mediated diseases."  Owned by Nestec (Nestle of Switzerland) and invented by Lionel Bovetto, Joerg Hau, and Catherine Mace and published at the patent office on September 6, 2011.  Listen to the bluebirds chirping outside my window.  Oh wait, its the bluejays and they are having one mean convention.
I digress, sorry I am easily distracted by birds....
I know that the first question is: what is COX-2 mediated diseases?  This patent states that those diseases are inflammatory diseases (I think for example they mean diseases like arthritis).  They will be using a milk fraction as a COX-2 inhibitor.  But we are to guess from what species this milk fraction may come from:  human, cow, or buffalo or a possible mixture.  Hey, your guess is as good as mine.  A raven is cackling outside my window...shut up you-you carrion species, you small vulture of the world.  This "invention" will be a nutritional and pharmaceutical product.

In the body of the patent the inventors state:
"Particularly, high cycloxygenase-2 inhibiting activity are provided by sweet whey from human milk and by several fractions from cow milk...."

The inventors see this as a possible replacement for NSAIDS without the side effects that NSAIDS generate.   But the inventors also believe that COX-2 inhibitors reduce the formation of tumors.  Wow. don't tell your mothers this one.  Who would believe it?  Nestle, you are so funny.

So how did these inventors get human milk?
"Human breast milk was obtained from healthy mothers who agreed to donate breast-milk samples in quantities that did not jeopardize the nutritional supply of the baby (10-60 ml). Samples were obtained up to 70 days postpartum by breast pump expression or occasionally by manual expression and were processed within 2 hrs after collection."

Donor milk.  Yes, momma, you gave it to them.  How kind of you.  Yes, keep'on donating because babies around the world need.....Nestle. (for those who don't know me, this is sarcasm). 
Copyright 2011 Valerie W. McClain 


  1. Hi Valerie -
    I was trying to remember what the estimated number of patents on breastmilk was, from a conversation I had a long time ago when I doing research for a documentary about HIV and parenting. Did a quick google search and this blog post came up. The funny thing is, you were the person I had the original conversation with - about ten years ago! ( You probably don't remember. :) Anyway, the film is This Child of Mine - there's a case about HIV and breastfeeding (which is how this topic came up in the first place). Check it out - Glad I found your blog.
    Jennifer Wolfe

  2. Hey Jennifer,
    I remember you :) I saw some clips from your film, This Child of Mine: very thought provoking, painful in some ways. We have become a society that short-circuits other points of view, thus we have lost the middle ground. So good to hear from you. Congratulations on your film! Best wishes, Valerie

  3. As a scientist (I'm studying for my doctorate in chemistry, if it matters at all,) the one thing I will say in defense of Nestle' is that by studying breastmilk and learning to extract/purify the active components of breastmilk they can determine the structures of such compounds and better understand them. Eventually these compounds may be synthesized in large quantities in a laboratory and used distributed via mass production -- not meant (in my eyes, at least) to be a replacement for breastmilk, but rather a separate preparation made available to other people whom may benefit from it.

    Many pharmaceutical companies base drug production off of natural products -- I am, in fact, writing a proposal right now to study herbs used traditionally for medicinal purposes to elucidate the structures of clinically active compounds. Why? Because if we can find new and natural sources for treating illness, we can find ways to treat antibiotic resistant diseases and help people.

    FYI: chemicals synthesizes properly in a laboratory are NO DIFFERENT from their naturally-occurring counterparts, they are structurally and chemically and biologically the same, the main concern would be with contaminants, but good lab practices will help to reduce/eliminate that type of problem. (I know that industry is NOT perfect and contamination does occur, we need more stringent oversight in this regard.)

  4. Katie,
    Yes, I think it matters that you are studying for your doctorate in chemistry. Being a student is often a long and difficult journey but full of surprises and moments of wonder.

    I do have to question your belief that "chemicals synthesized properly in a laboratory are NO DIFFERENT from the their naturally-occurring counterparts." You might be interested in the following article in the October 2010 issue of Nature Chemical Biology (vol 6, No. 10)authored by Catherine Goodman called "Judit Puskas: A polymer scientist explores and exploits the heterogeneity of natural biopolymers." Puskas states, "In spite of years of history, we still cannot make a synthetic equivalent of natural rubber." The article goes on to state, "For example in natural rubber, though the bulk of the material is in a cis configuration, the first few units are in a trans configuration. In contrast, synthetic rubber is almost completely cis." This situation has nothing to do with contamination but with the subtle differences between man-made and natural. There are many other examples of attempts to duplicate nature in which there are subtle differences. And, scientists do not know whether those subtle differences are important. We, humans, are still not able to duplicate nature.

  5. Valerie, that is absolutely true. I should clarify. What I meant is that chemicals we CAN duplicate are no different than their naturally-occurring counterparts. Take penicillin, for example. We can get it from mold, or we can make it in a lab. If I am studying say, the smell of crushed leaves (you know that earthy smell you get when you pull a fresh leaf off a tree and crush it in your hand?), I can physically do that to a leaf OR open a bottle of hexanal that was synthesized in a laboratory. It smells the same because plants produce hexanal and that is what is released when they are wounded (or at least part of what is released and gives the distinctive smell!).
    Another example may be the difference between natural and artificial flavorings. I won't debate the health benefits (or lack thereof) of any type of processed food here, but what I will say is this: artificial flavoring and "natural" flavoring are no different chemically. The distinctive banana scent/flavor you get from a banana? Caused by an ester called isoamyl acetate -- this can be extracted from lots and lots of bananas and added to say, banana bread mix in a box. OR the same ester can be produced in a lab at a much lower cost and added to the same banana bread mix in a box. Now you may argue that there is an interplay of many many parts chemicals in a banana and it's biological composition that play a part in it's flavor and aroma. And I don't disagree, that is why most artificial flavors are a long list of mixtures of chemicals designed to imitate the natural ones. What I am arguing, though, is that the MAIN flavor from a banana comes from the ester (you could open a bottle in my lab, smell it, and think, mmmmmmmmm, Bananas!), and it is chemically no different when made in a lab or extracted from the fruit. Here's a link to an exerpt from Eric Schlosser's book Fast Food Nation that discusses food chemistry:

    If you scroll down to the topic "Natural" and "Artificial" there is a nice discussion about how natural flavors are produced vs. how artificial flavors are produced. :-)

    I digress. Nature is much more complex than we understand right now, but there are lots of good scientists who are trying to develop a deeper understanding of how it works and how to duplicate it. And we are learning! While there are still many many many things which we cannot duplicate, there are talented chemists and biologists who have uncovered ways to make some of the simpler compounds in a lab.

    Perhaps my opinion is also tainted by a young sense of idealism, hoping and believes that although companies do want to turn a profit, there are people out there who really are looking out for the best interest of their friends, family and neighbors. I know I'm not becoming a chemist for the cash, I'm doing it because I've watched my mother's condition deteriorate my entire life as her body struggles with Multiple Sclerosis, and it is through chemistry and understanding the way the body works that we will be able to help her and other people like her. As a young chemist, I see my duty to society as a moral obligation to help those around me helping to develop and discover new therapies that can improve the quality of life of people in the present and future.

  6. I do, by the way, the importance of breastfeeding. I would also hope that as people learn about the amazing properties of breastmilk they will be more encouraged to accept breastfeeding as natural and healthful.

  7. Katie,
    When I first went to college, I remember a visiting scientist who lectured on his amazing discovery. It was a discovery that created rapid plant growth. He believed that with his research, we would be able to feed more people. The corporation he worked for took his research and went one step further. They used it to create an herbicide. I believe it was Agent Orange, used in Vietnam to defoliate the jungle. Super rapid growth killed plants. He was devastated by what this company did with his research. He was trying to save the world, and the company he worked for was destroying it. He committed himself to speaking around the country and telling his story. Of course, he no longer was employed by the company. I can't remember his name because it was many years ago (1969 or 1970) but I remember his commitment to telling his truth to young students. We are easily used by corporations whose only imperative is profit.

    As for breastfeeding, we need more than acceptance. We need greater regulation of the infant formula industry. How we feed our babies (in developed and developing nations) can be a life or death decision. That decision should not be left to industry to market and sway populations to buy their products.