Scientists think they've found a promising new avenue for an HIV treatment in an unlikely place: the breasts of moms. Public health officials have long noticed that infants breastfed by HIV-positive moms rarely contract the virus themselves—even though the virus is definitely inside the milk. Now, Duke scientists think they know why: A protein in the milk called Tenascin-C, or TNC, neutralizes the virus and prevents transmission, Smithsonian Magazine reports.
The team divided the milk into smaller samples with particular properties to pinpoint which protein was doing the heavy lifting. They caution that Tenascin-C might not do it all—some samples with relatively low levels still neutralized the threat—and they've only tested it on tissue samples. “It’s likely that TNC is acting in concert with other anti-HIV factors in breast milk, and further research should explore this,” says the lead author, as quoted in Red Orbit. But the finding could lead to Tenascin injections for infants who can't breastfeed, or even a treatment to prevent transmission in adults. It's likely "to be inherently safe," the researcher says. "It's something babies eat every day." (Read more HIV stories.)