It is not a new idea that a mothers milk provides immune protection against a number of pathogenic agents via the transfer of antibodies, and indeed recently it was observed that the mothers immune defence plays a key role in the development of asthma and allergies in newborns and young children.
This process is known as “passive immunity”, however a team at the University of California have recently shown that breast milk can also contribute to the development of the baby’s own immune system by a process they are calling “maternal education immunity”.
Maternal immune cells in the milk were found to cross the wall of the baby’s intestines and enter the thymus (an organ heavily implicated in the immune response), where they proceeded to “educate” developing immune cells to attack the same infectious organisms to which the mother has been exposed. By the process of immunity, replicas of the mothers immune cells that the baby makes, will provide immunity for life.
Simply: Vaccinating the mother vaccinates the baby.
Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium responsible for the disease tuberculosis (TB) was one of the pathogens studied in this research, it was observed that immunity via breast milk was far more effective than traditional vaccination.
There is an on-going battle raging on over whether the vaccination of children is ethical and should be carried out or not, one that i’m sure you’re all aware of and have formed your own opinion. But regardless of which side you fall on, it can be agreed that this research could prove revolutionary. Not only because of those vaccines that aren’t safe to give to newborns, or those that are less effective in newborns. But that it could end this argument over night reducing the risk of infections and diseases in children.
Immunity explained (Credit: Armando Hasudungan):
In their research, they used mouse models, and while there is another argument to be had with the use of models, we do know that milk cells cross into human babies as well. Of course, clinical trials will need to be conducted which can take years, but a time where no children need to be vaccinated may be on the horizon.