Thursday, November 21, 2013
Will the real black market please stand up!
I woke up this morning to the gentle sound of rain, another day in paradise. So I turned to the internet for my morning entertainment. Lo and behold, there before my early morning blurry eyes is a story from channel 9 news in Orlando. The headline is, "9 Investigates black market breast milk sales." What a way to wake up, when ya live in the land of Disney. Hm, I didn't know it was illegal to share human milk. A black market would mean something illegal was going on, right? When I think of black market, I think of criminal activity, usually involving drugs or weapons. The article is worth reading to understand how the media is used to socially market new concepts to the public.
I never knew we had a black market in human milk until now and right here in Paradise--Orlando no less. Our reporter, just back from her maternity leave has an interest in this topic. Not sure how she found out about it but knowing that Orlando just opened its first not-for profit milk bank makes me think that maybe that news lead to this. Anyway she buys some breast milk through the internet. It is selling for $1 or $2 per ounce. She buys 110 ounces from 4 different persons. Then she mails it to researchers at Boston College in Massachusetts to have it tested. It just so happens she has had contact with the reseacher Dr. Sarah Keim who just did a study on "unregulated black market human milk... which had high levels of bacteria or certain disease-causing bacteria like the kind you find in human waste." Surprisingly, the samples the Orlando reporter sent to Boston College had similar findings.
Of interest to my readers is that it just so happens that the researcher they contacted from Boston College is Dr. David Newburg. He was described as a biology professor and director of the Glyco-biology program at Boston College. Funny how they neglected to tell readers that he is also a co-inventor to over 10 US human milk component patents and applications, co-founder of a company called Glycosyn LLC. This company was founded by 2 other researchers, Ardythe Morrow of Cincinnati Children's Research Foundation, and Guillermo Ruiz-Palacios of the Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Medicas y Nutricion of Mexico. All 3 are co-inventors to several patents like patent #8314061 entitled, "Adiponectin for treatment of various disorders." Which may be used in infant formula.
The very first human milk component patent I ever saw was one in which Newburg co-invented. It was filed in 1995 and was about human milk fat globule which would be used to treat diarrhea particularly diarrhea in immune-compromised patients like those with hiv/aids. There is a second one filed in 1996 and these patents are co-owned by John Hopkins Medical School.
This research has been funded by the NIH (National Institute of Health). The Cinncinati Children's Hospital Medical Center, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and the Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Medicas y Nutricion licensed this technology to Glycosyn. The company offers 6 different products.http://www.glycosyninc.com/products,3.html
They are also collaborating with Grameen to "introduce, manufacture and distribute Glycosyn's products for the prevention and treatment of diarrhea throughout Bangladesh.
Dr. David S. Newburgh is also on the Board at a HMBANA milk bank, Mothers Milk Bank Northeast. He has many accomplishments. But I have numerous questions about this investigation by channel 9 news in Orlando. Who paid for the milk (and the shipping and the testing?) that was bought through this so-called black market? The reporter? The news agency? Dr. David S. Newburgh who was the recipient of this milk? What was done with this milk? Thrown out after checking for bacteria? Used in research? Interesting the timing of this article and how it supposedly confirms the recent study done by Dr. Sarah Keim.
Glycosyn states that it was founded to commercialize discoveries in which it was found that "natural, anti-infective components (glycans) in human breast milk demonstrate significant protection against diarrhea." This is a biotech company and almost all the patents are about genetically engineering the human milk component. Will more babies breastfed? Or will we committ more money and resources to sell products that interfere with breastfeeding. While we can genetically engineer them, does the public understand how these products are made? I remember when I first became an IBCLC and learned this statistic: approximately 1.5 million infants die around the world (including the US) because they are not breastfed. They die from diarrhea and dehydration. And that statistic has not changed. Do we need more products to treat the problem which is lack of breastfeeding? Or do we need more nations investing in actively supporting mothers to breastfeed?
What do the donor milk banks want? Quite simply they seem to want women donating their milk to their milk banks only. In the contest for a natural resource, what will be done or said? Who wins? No one wins in this situation. Who owns your breast milk? Why are moms giving it away at $1 or $2 an ounce? And who wins when the public starts to believe there is a black market in human milk? Will the real black market please stand up? And I'll tell ya now it ain't mom and pop selling it in Orlando.
Copyright 2013 Valerie W. McClain