Friday, October 25, 2013

River of denial: Nestle denies patenting human milk

A river of denial cuts through our digital world.  What do we believe?  And why do we believe it?  Nestle, on their website, denies they are "trying to patent human breast milk."  They state, "We have filed patents to protect the use of a protein called osteoprotegerin in food and granted two patents in the US.  This particular protein is found in many types of milk and may be used to help treat bone disorders and regulate immune responses."

Yes, a protein and where is it found?  The first sentence in their patent abstract (patent #7749960, one of two on osteoprotegerin), "The present invention pertains to osteoprotegerin obtainable from milk sources, in particular human and bovine milk."  The rest of the patent is centered on human milk, a Western blot analysis of human milk franctions, a RT-PCR analysis of human breast milk cells, cloning the protein in yeast, and human mammary gland epithelial cells.  I see no mention of an analysis of bovine milk or Western blots on bovine milk fractions or PC analysis.  Maybe I missed it?

I particularly enjoyed reading from the patent these statements, "In the studies leading to the present invention, it has now surpisingly been found that in addition to its presence in e.g. the bone tissues, osteoprotegerin may also be found in human breast milk.  In consequence, during breast feeding the mother is obviously supplying the newborn with this bioactive substance in a form that is capable of surviving the child's gastro-intestinal tract.  From this it follows that the OPG [osteoprotegerin] produced by mammary gland cells obviously differs from OPG isolated from other sources as regards its stability and/or resistance to degradation."

So here is a substance in human milk that can be used to treat bone disorders.  A substance to treat bone loss caused by calcium or hormonal deficiencies.  Whether Nestle will use this substance or some cloned, genetically engineered version, or the bovine protein is unknown.  I tend to view these statements as  interesting even if this patent does not become a product.  The standard medical belief in regard to human milk is that it is deficient in calcium for preterm infants.  So preterm infants must be supplemented.  Hm, yet there is a substance in human milk that cures bone loss caused by calcium or hormonal deficiency and it resists degradation in the gut of the infant.  Interesting and if it were up to me I would want to revisit the issue of the need of supplementation of preterm infants in regard to calcium.  And I would like to see research done on how these synthetic vitamins and minerals added to human milk improve the substance.  Or might these synthetic substances nullify the effects of human milk?  But I doubt that these questions will be asked.

Nestle has these two patents on osteoprotegerin and I suppose we will continue to debate about what they are actually patenting--human or bovine milks.  But they have more patents on various human milk components (of course, all state various mammal milks might be used).  For instance, patent # 8394370 entitled, "Nutritional formula for optimal gut barrier function."  One of the options they state is a "Human Milk Oligosaccharide such as Sialyllactose." Or patent #8524658 entitled, "Lactoferrin and brain health and development in infants."  The source for this patent is a milk or whey source:  bovine, human, goat, camel, horse or donkey milks.  And they state that colostrum may be used.  In fact they state, "Human colostrum has a relatively high concentration of lactoferrin followed by human milk, then cow milk."  Or we could look at patent #7230078 entitled, "Soluble toll-like receptor."  This patent states, "The present invention is based on the surprising discovery of a molecular component of human breast milk..."  and "...the present invention may be obtained from human milk; especially during the early stages of lactation."

Yes, that river of denial.  "No.  We have not patented human breast milk, nor are we trying to."  I swear I am living in George Orwell's novel, "1984."  But then maybe its just that I am living next to that river of denial waiting for the dawn.
Valerie W McClain copyright 2013