BioMilq is re-creating actual breast milk using human cells

You may have heard of the 'artificial' burgers made from lab-grown meat cells a while back. It's predicted that 'cultured' meat is the future of the food industry. It provides respite from harmful CO2 emissions produced by the meat industry, and is undeniably the most animal friendly way to consume meat.

Dutch professor Dr Mark Post unveil the first lab-grown hamburger in 2013, which got Leila Strickland a cell biologist thinking... could this technology be extended to other factions of our lives? Could we use it for example to recreate breast milk?

Strickland had herself found breastfeeding difficult and painful. But of course, she worried about the alternative, formula milk is not without its benefits, but lacks the genetic properties found in breast milk, which many scientists see as integral for developing healthy immunity in babies. As a cell biologist, Strickland began thinking about how this technology could be adapted to synthetically produce breast milk, "A pregnant woman could have a needle biopsy of her breast during pregnancy, and I could get the cells growing and producing milk before the baby is born,” she wrote in an email to a friend at the time.

Post's burgers were the very inspiration which led her to start BioMilq in 2020 a company which can artificially reproduce human breast milk using your own DNA. Until now our only options have been breast feed or formula, and the downsides of formula (other than guilt os not being able to breast feed) are the lack of nutrients in formula compared to human breast milk. BioMilq are now working to produce cultured breastmilk using technology in order to offer families a more nutritious and more sustainable option for feeding babies than current dairy-based infant supplements.

Of course expressing milk or pumping is an option, but this is also a painful and often arduous affair, and doesn't solve the problems of mothers who often fail to produce enough milk. According to research 84% of mothers transition to dairy-based infant formula before the recommended six month exclusivity period. Strickland explains "Informed by my personal experience with breastfeeding failure and by a relentless hunch about the biology of milk biosynthesis, I believed that if someone would just give me a chance to do this thing, it might actually work."

And she isn't the only person who believes in the idea. Following the appointment of Michelle Egger as CEO, in May 2020 the startup got $3.5 million from a group of investors led by Bill Gates. They are now set to turn the $42 billion formula industry on its head.

Founder Leila Strickland & CEO Michelle Egger

So far BioMilq is still a while away far from having a product that is ready for consumers. The startup is currently culturing mammary cells in their lab space in Research Triangle Park, and so far they have successfully produced casein and lactose, the protein and a sugar found in human breast milk. Natalie Shenker, a breast-milk researcher at Imperial College London stated that it will be difficult or impossible for them to reproduce the anti-bodies found in actual breast milk, as those come from the mother's own immune cells. That being said many will still find the human option a better alternative than formulas, which are largely derived from cows milk. The product will have to gain approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, once it's ready.

Every mother wants the best for their child and when an alternative to formula that closely replicates your own breastmilk becomes available, that is milk no mother won't cry over.

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