There are three different kinds of ILCs that they have found in breast milk, with type 1 being the most prevalent. These type 1 cells are passed from mother to baby through the breast milk, but then survive in the baby’s gut for several days. Researchers are now interested in what happens there – if and/or how they tailor the baby’s microbiome, which we know is important not only for digesting nutrients but also in immune protection.
According to Science Daily, ILCs do not go out and attach pathogens directly. They are different to the macrophages – the largest immune cell population in breast milk. While macrophages are the “attackers”, going out and finding any harmful bacteria or infections and eating them up, ILCs actually send cytokines – proteins important in cell signaling – to tell the macrophages what to do, researcher Dr. Babak Baban, immunologist in the Department of Oral Biology in the Dental College of Georgia at AU and in the MCG Department of Surgery, says.
Not only beneficial for the baby, the researchers think the ILCs also play a part in protecting the mother from infection through breastfeeding. They are also interested in whether these cells are involved in the dynamic that allows a mother’s milk to change in response to the baby and provide the right help to fight infection.
Once again, breast milk is shown to be absolutely unique and extremely powerful in setting a baby up for the best start in life.
- Babak Baban, Aneeq Malik, Jatinder Bhatia, Jack C. Yu. Presence and Profile of Innate Lymphoid Cells in Human Breast Milk. JAMA Pediatrics, 2018; DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.0148