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Does milk hold the key to beating brain cancer?

The white stuff contains chemicals that can carry siRNA's (small interfering RNAs) that prevent manufacture of proteins that fuel tumor's growth.

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Bottles with fresh milk in a box. On a wooden background.
(Chatham172 via Shutterstock)

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Milk may hold the key to beating brain cancer, according to new research.

It can deliver gene silencing drugs that shrink deadly tumors.

The white stuff contains chemicals that can carry siRNA's (small interfering RNAs) that prevent manufacture of proteins that fuel the growths.

Currently, the dairy food's nanoparticles are being cultured in the lab but the ultimate plan is to breed genetically modified cows.

Project leader Professor Janos Zempleni, a nutritionist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, described the potential as "enormous."

He said: "It has not been realized yet at all."

Fewer than half of patients survive beyond a year of being diagnosed. President Joe Biden's son Beau died from the disease in 2015.

Recent studies show cancerous tumors can be reduced by siRNAs that shut down genes. But getting them directly to the targeted area has remained elusive.

Milk, it turns out, offers a solution. Humans absorb siRNAs through food, explained Zempleni.

Milk, it turns out, stands out for its robust ability. Once ingested, it helps them accumulate naturally in the brain.

The study, funded with a $630,000 government grant, uses milk-transported siRNAs to switch off a mutated gene that causes brain tumors.

It offers also opens the door to treating rare genetic abnormalities that lead to brain cancer in young children, said Zempleni.

The US team are loading the natural milk nanoparticles, known as exosomes, with therapeutic material including siRNAs.

They are culturing cells similar to cow's milk in the laboratory to produce them, and infusing them into brain tumors in mice.

The aim is for the siRNAs to effectively and consistently reach them, and then accumulate in sufficient quantity to reduce them.

Large-scale production of exosomes will be needed to meet clinical demand. Petri dishes can supply only a small volume of exosomes.

Long term, the researchers seek to develop a genetically modified cow which will produce ample - through its milk.

Zempleni said: "Such an animal would secrete milk exosomes conducive to maximal delivery of RNA therapeutics to brain tumors in human cancer patients."

The drugs industry is already using 'biopharming' - the use of animals in producing medical treatments.

Blood clot buster Atryn, for example, is derived from the milk of genetically engineered goats.

Added Prof Zempleni: "With our technology, you could actually use these milk exosomes, attach the appropriate feature and deliver a therapeutic to folks suffering from these rare diseases.

"I think this could be a huge game changer if we get a funding agency to take the risk of developing these animals. That is a difficult task.

"Making the cells in the lab is relatively easy, but taking this to livestock, a goat or a cow, it is way, way complicated."

Glioblastomas affect an estimated one in 30,000 people. They develop when cells supporting nerves in the brain begin to divide uncontrollably.

Surgery is the main treatment. About 40 percent of patients survive beyond a year - and just 17 percent more than two years.

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