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Business founders/entrepreneurs

Cultured human milk

27 replies

antsrule · 27/06/2023 14:47

I am toying with the idea to found a startup that creates human milk and would love to hear what mums/parents think about this topic or any business-savvy people out here who would like to chat with me?!

the context: globally only 40% of mothers breastfeed exclusively during first 6m, studies have established that more children could survive and do better if they had been bf (depending on country), this has a knock on effect on the economy too. Obviously non-bf infants have to be nourished and infant formula has done an amazing job to provide for kids that weren’t able to bf, however it is widely known that formula doesn’t quite hit the mark (compared to breast milk) when it comes to nutrition and the immunological benefits. The majority of formula is also cow milk-based, which is not the most ideal milk for human infants and in fact some can’t tolerate it due to sensitivities/allergies. In addition the dairy industry is not sustainable in the long run and we are seeing an increase in alternative milk (and even meat) products in recent years.

I am a mother of 2 and a stem cell scientist with over 14years of academic and industry research experience and I would like to grow human breast cells in the lab and let them express milk. this sector is called cellular agriculture and is booming right now.

I would love to hear people’s views on this! Thank you! 🙏🏻

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Summerishereagain · 27/06/2023 14:51

I imagine it’s an ethical mine field. How do you ensure the milk is drug free? Do you pay for the milk? And then pay for medically testing to ensure it’s free of disease? If you do all that then I imagine it would be too expensive for the consumer.

My kids were allergic to dairy and others stuff and there is no way I would trust commercial breast milk to be free from their allergens. How would you police that? I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect women to restrict their food intake for commercial purposes.

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Summerishereagain · 27/06/2023 14:53

I also wonder what will happen with the increase with alternative ‘milks’ and ‘meats’ as we become more aware if the problems with UPF. But perhaps that will increase your market as formula is a UPF.

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MaggyNoodles · 27/06/2023 15:00

I can't get past 'grow human cells in a lab' 😨 which is just a bit too Frankenstein for me.

Your efforts would be better or to use supporting breastfeeding and removing the barriers that prevent it happening more than it currently does. I would also be interested in research looking into why some women just can't breastfeed (I was one) above this.

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SBAM · 27/06/2023 15:05

Surely created milk (if I understand correctly this will not be produced by women, but by cells in a lab?) will not have any immunological benefits above formula since these are thought to come from the mothers immune system in response to the baby’s saliva?

My children are past needing infant milk, but I’d be interested to know the cost you expect to be able to sell this for, and how it would arrive (liquid in a bottle/carton or powdered?).
How far in the future is the technology to do this?

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OhGingleBells · 27/06/2023 15:05

Isn’t one of the main benefits of breastfeeding that the milk adapts and is tailored to baby’s needs? Hydration and immunological benefits coming from what baby needs at that moment in time surely can’t be replicated in a lab? The benefit of Mum’s antibodies when she is sick can’t be created from lab grown cells so surely the greatest pros of breastfeeding can’t be produced in this way.

I can see that it’s a good alternative to cow’s milk but it seems a really complicated and presumably costly way of creating something that simply can’t live up to the real thing. Would it really be significantly better than standard formula?

(I have absolutely no scientific knowledge so very happy to be corrected or informed!)

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Dryshampoofordays · 27/06/2023 15:08

I would personally prefer donor breast milk (which is a thing) than laboratory grown breast milk. It sounds too Frankenstein for me!

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antsrule · 27/06/2023 15:09

great points and you are right, since it is a very new sector the regulations have not even been written yet. For me the safety of the milk would be of utmost importance and it would have to go through clinical trial as any formula does too. The drug aspect is also interesting as the cells in culture produce the milk with all required sugars and proteins that breastmilk would have but without the immunological properties if it. So it would never rival breastmilk just provide a more nutritious and sustainable alternative to formula for parents.
i appreciate your feedback though! Definitely something to think about!

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Celestron16 · 27/06/2023 15:15

I actually love this idea. I'm vegan and would stay clear of cow's milk unless absolutely necessary due to ethical reasons. If I couldn't breastfeed, I would absolutely look into this option if it was up and running

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antsrule · 27/06/2023 15:16

Thank you for your comment and I’m sorry you had difficulties bf! I had at times experienced the same and you are right more research in why this is happening is definitely a must!
regarding taking away barriers and promoting bf it is actually very interesting as research suggests that even when women know ‘breast is best’ it still doesn’t mean it increases the bf rate. It can have a whole plethora of reasons why from biology and social aspects to economic and legislative aspects. Some suggested that aggressive formula advertising is to blame but there is indication that even without the marketing people would still not automatically choose to bf. Again if the reason is inability, that is a different question. Lots to think about! Cheers!

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antsrule · 27/06/2023 15:23

Great questions! Thank you! You are right, the cultured milk would not have immunological benefits, same as formula. What it would have is the proteins and sugars that are human rather than cow and which should be much easier digestible than animal milk-based formula.
regarding the cost, I foresee it to be eventually on par to cost of formula, however the technology and R&D are still to be perfected.
I think initially in liquid format but of course to make it more accessible and last longer a powdered version is likely to happen.
interesting points you are making! Thank you!

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PronounWanker · 27/06/2023 15:23

There's a lot of money sloshing around in CellAg at the moment, OP, so you might be able to net some for this very specific direction. But the bottom will fall out soon. Big companies are already pivoting away from CellAg towards bioreactor technologies and cell therapy. Big names are leaving the big companies.

Your long-term vision won't come to fruition. But you might be able to get a bit of VC investment while the field rumbling on.

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antsrule · 27/06/2023 15:28

You are totally right! The cultured version would have no immunological value, just nutritional and more digestible than formula. I would definitely not want to take away breastfeeding as I am a big proponent of breastfeeding myself. But I do think that once the technology is there (and I believe it will in the next 5-10years) it will be possible to have a more nutritious and sustainable product compared to formula! So the next best thing after breastmilk!
thank you for your comment!

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antsrule · 27/06/2023 15:33

That would be more ideal, I totally agree! However there isn’t enough of it unfortunately, to the point that people source it themselves through facebook groups, which poses a bit of a risk in terms of pathogens. The little donor milk that milk banks can screen and distribute to hospitals is mostly reserved for premature or medically fragile infants and it’s definitely not enough for the number of parents who are not able to bf.

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antsrule · 27/06/2023 15:34

Totes! 😬 but every great idea has competitors that drive the technology forward! 🤩

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antsrule · 27/06/2023 15:35

Thank you for your comment! That’s great to hear it would be an attractive option for you! 🙏🏻❤️

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Hoppinggreen · 27/06/2023 15:35

I didn’t BF by choice but I certainly wouldn’t do this either.

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OhGingleBells · 27/06/2023 15:38

As a positive, I think it could be an appealing idea to families where there is no option at all for breastfeeding, e.g. adopted babies or babies born via surrogate or where mum has passed away or is not present in baby’s life. So I can see a market for it as “the next best thing.”

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antsrule · 27/06/2023 15:39

Thank you for your comment! Indeed the CellAg sector is booming right now but I wouldn’t say it is at it’s end. I currently work in a cellag based company and from my perspective it is just the beginning. From a scientists POV I do think the technology is possible but does require a lot of R&D still to make it scalable.

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Catlord · 27/06/2023 15:41

I understand you're a scientist not a marketer but how would this product be marketed and would your company make any attempts to support breastfeeding alongside producing and selling your products? I ask as I understand that traditional formula is a different product but as I'm sure you're aware, grave ethical errors were made selling this at the expense of child safety and mother's faith in breastfeeding.

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antsrule · 27/06/2023 15:42

May I ask why cultured milk wouldn’t be an option for you? Which concerns would you have?
thank you!

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gogomoto · 27/06/2023 15:42

I write my thesis on this 25 years ago! The tech wasn't cheap enough to make it commercially viable then

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antsrule · 27/06/2023 15:44

Totally! I am a big proponent of bf if that’s an option and would never want to replace that. But I don think babies deserve more options, not just formula.

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antsrule · 27/06/2023 15:49

Thank you for your comment! I agree the aggressive marketing strategy of the formula companies have shifted the focus off bf but they also provided the only option for parents who couldn’t bf their babies. I would never want to replace bf, rather I would like to give babies another potentially more nutritious and sustainable option to formula. So marketing would be along the lines of ‘second best to breastmilk’ or so. But yes I would want to still promote bf, maybe on the bottles something like ‘breastmilk is still the best option for your baby, so think twice’
yeah I’m not good at marketing yet 🥴

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antsrule · 27/06/2023 15:50

Ohh thats interesting! Would love to read it or maybe chat with you if you’d be up for it?

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