Goat's Milk May Save Lives

Ken Tudor, DVM
Published: July 25, 2013
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

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