The Campbell Foundation
Helping Make HIV/AIDS History Since 1995
Campbell Foundation Grant Funds
Research to Study Human Milk and HIV
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL –– Feb. 6, 2023 –Can human milk prevent HIV transmission? That’s what researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City plan to study with the help of an $84,235 grant from The Campbell Foundation.
Each year 100,000 mother-to-child transmissions of HIV via chest/breastfeeding occur. However, only 15 percent of infants exclusively chest/breastfed by an HIV-infected parent will become infected, even if the parent is not on anti-viral medication. “It is evident that although human milk is a vehicle for HIV transmission, its virus-killing properties are significant,” says Principal Investigator, Rebecca Powell, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine at Icahn Mount Sinai.
She has several active projects designed to learn more about human milk immunology and the milk immune response to infectious disease and
vaccination. Dr. Powell says she became interested in combining her more than a decade of experience studying HIV with her own experiences as a breastfeeding mother of three.
She has several active projects designed to learn more about human milk immunology and the milk immune response to infectious disease and vaccination. Dr. Powell says she became interested in combining her more than a decade of experience studying HIV with her own experiences as a breastfeeding mother of three.
Previous studies have found that certain milk leukocytes (blood cells that are part of the body’s immune system), can perform an essential function called antibody-dependent cellular phagocytosis (ADCP), wherein the cells engulf and destroy HIV that has been coated in anti-HIV antibody.
“In milk, we have identified unique subsets of leukocytes that can perform ADCP of HIV, in the ‘monocyte’ lineage, that do not conform to any classical blood monocyte profile. These cells are generally small (blast-like) and lack expected cell-surface markers. This finding demonstrates that human milk monocytes must be comprehensively examined and defined to further the field’s knowledge such that these potential vehicles of and defenders against transmission of HIV can be targeted therapeutically,” Powell says.
Chest/breastfed babies ingest 100,000 - 100,000,000 cells from milk every day. However, what remains unclear is the contribution of these cells to the milk’s anti-viral qualities. The research will add to the existing body of knowledge and work toward designing vaccines that stimulate targeted milk antibodies.
“Milk immunology is still a relatively understudied area, but one that has great potential,” said the Campbell Foundation’s Executive Director Ken Rapkin. “Dr. Powell and her team have been at the forefront of this type of research, which one day may be used to develop vaccines.”
About The Campbell Foundation
The Campbell Foundation was established in 1995 by the late Richard Campbell Zahn as a private, independent, nonprofit foundation dedicated to supporting clinical, laboratory-based research into the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. It focuses its funding on supporting alternative, nontraditional avenues of research. The Campbell Foundation has given away more than $12 million since its inception.