Professor Catharina Svanborg: Is the cure for cancer hiding in human breast milk?
Could HAMLET, a compound found in human breast milk, give us the upper hand in the war against cancer?
Back in 1971, US President Richard Nixon declared a war on cancer, pledging to pump $100 million into research and proclaiming that the time had come “when the same kind of concentrated effort that split the atom and took man to the Moon should be turned toward conquering this dread disease”.
Billons of research dollars later and the war is still raging. But thanks to advances in treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy the tide is slowly turning. According to a report carried out by Macmillan Cancer Support, in 2016 patients were twice as likely to survive for 10 years following a cancer diagnosis as they were at the start of the 1970s.
But will the big breakthrough ever come? One area of research showing great promise began two decades ago when a group of Swedish researchers chanced upon an intriguing compound with tumour-killing properties hidden within human breast milk. Dubbed HAMLET, short for Human α-lactalbumin, the substance has so far come through in vitro and animal trials with flying colours. With human trials currently underway, could HAMLET be the drug to finally give us the upper hand in the war against cancer?
In this week's episode of the Science Focus Podcast, Jason Goodyer, commissioning editor at BBC Science Focus Magazine, talks to the project’s leader Professor Catharina Svanborg.
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Listen to more episodes of the Science Focus Podcast:
- Is gene editing inspiring or terrifying? – Nessa Carey
- Can we slow down the ageing process? - Sue Armstrong
- Eating for your genes - Giles Yeo
- How to get a good night's sleep - Alice Gregory
- Everything that's wrong with the human body - Nathan Lents
- What it’s really like to die - Dr Kathryn Mannix
Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Science Focus Podcast.