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Goat's Milk May Save Lives

Probably few readers have heard of the One Health Initiative. One Health seeks to strengthen equal collaboration between human health providers and veterinarians and other animal health researchers and professionals. The goal is to create a synergy of biomedical research to improve both human and veterinary care, public health and disease prevention, and also the care of the environment. I came across a recent report in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association that embodies the spirit of One Health.

Goat Milk Study

Researchers in the Animal Science and Population Health and Reproduction departments at the University of California, Davis collaborated on a study using goat milk to combat diarrheal illness in pigs. Population Health and Reproduction is an interdisciplinary department housed in the UC Davis veterinary school but whose focus is not only improving a safe and economical food supply but also gathering and disseminating information that can lead to enhanced human health.

In 1999, the animal science department developed a herd of goats that were genetically modified to produce human lysozyme in their milk (transgenic). Lysozymes are part of an animal’s (including human), first line of immunity against bacterial invaders. Abundant in tears, saliva, milk, and mucous, lysozymes damage bacterial cell walls and prevent bacteria from reproducing and causing disease.

The researchers found that young pigs infected with disease causing strains of E. coli bacteria recovered more quickly, suffered less dehydration and less damage to their intestines if they were fed transgenic goat milk than those fed regular goat’s milk. The researchers chose young pigs in the study because their gastrointestinal physiology is very similar to humans. It is hoped further studies will show consistent results for diarrheal disease because of the implications this research has on combating diarrheal disease in children.

A Million Deaths A Year

Figures from the World Health Organization and UNICEF estimate that more than one million children worldwide die yearly from diarrheal diseases, most caused by pathogenic E. coli. Those that survive persistent diarrhea often suffer from malnutrition that causes mental and growth deficiencies that can last their entire lives. It is known that children fed infant formulas that lack lysozyme have a three times higher rate of diarrheal diseases. Infant formulas have become a more common substitute for maternal milk in poor and emerging countries where maternal nutrition or economic factors influence child feeding options. These areas of the world would particularly benefit from this goat milk treatment.

Dr. James Murray of the UC animal science group that developed the transgenic goats feels that human trials are soon forthcoming and is planning to establish a herd of transgenic goats in northern Brazil where child diarrheal disease is particularly a problem. It is hoped that success in Brazil will help stimulate interest in the prospects for this treatment and result in worldwide development of transgenic goat herds and milk production where needed.

Dr. Murray also sees potential veterinary applications for transgenic milk in treating young, high value livestock that suffer diarrheal conditions.

As we continue to come closer to being a single world community, it becomes more important to solve problems globally. One Health is a step in that direction.

Dr. Ken Tudor

Image: Thinkstock

Comments  6

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  • Goat milk research
    07/25/2013 01:01pm

    This was very interesting to read, Dr Tudor. Is there any research showing that our pets also benefit from the genetically modified milk? We hear so much negativity about "GM" products from people who don't understand the concept, (including the fact that they are genetic modifications themselves), that all the good research is usually being drowned out.

    We had a foster cat with a major hole in his heart and we had a serious battle keeping the diarrhea at bay for the full three years he survived on this earth. It would have been so great to have something that made diarrhea control a bit easier for his short term life experience. Medicinal aids like FortiFlora had a major impact on our boy's well being during his life, so perhaps bacterial infections aren't the only conditions that could be positively battled with the altered goat's milk?

  • 07/25/2013 05:48pm

    I am only aware of 4 studies in pigs from Dr. Murray's group. The pig was chosen because of its digestive similarity to humans. I don't know if human lysozyme would benefit cats or dogs due to differences in the digestive tract, especially cats with their very short intestinal length. Also I don't know if cat lysozymes or dog lysozymes would be better for those species rather than human lysozyme. In the article, Dr. Murray did mention the potential for this treatment for high value livestock but he did not identify the species or indicate research with other species. You might want to contact him directly and see what has been done in the field. His phone number and email address is available in the UCD Department of Animal Science faculty listings.
    Dr. T

  • 07/26/2013 01:31am

    Thanks for the informative response, Dr Tudor.

  • Genetically Altered
    07/25/2013 05:50pm

    Genetically altered goats? HHHmmm. Is there some reason they didn't try this with cow's milk?

    It's a fantastic idea and one can only hope there are great things to come from the study. My only question is this: is there any danger to the goats?

  • 07/25/2013 08:31pm

    Many humans are allergic to the casein protein in cow's milk but not the casein in goat milk. The milk can also be produced in larger quantities than the milk from other small ruminants. These qualities make it ideal for consideration for treating human conditions. Dr. Murray's herd of transgenic goats is extremely viable so the insertion of the gene for producing human lysozyme rather than goat lysozyme does not seem to carry any harmful effects that have been identified so far.
    Dr. T

  • 08/03/2013 01:40am

    casein feeds cancer cells, is goat milk casein exempt from that too?

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