Scientists Engineer Hypoallergenic Milk For Allergy Sufferers

By Amir Khan on October 1, 2012 3:49 PM EDT

cow
If you're allergic to milk, you may be in luck. According to new research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, people allergic to milk may be able to drink a new kind of hypoallergenic milk, engineered by scientists from New Zealand. (Photo: Creative Commons)

If you're allergic to milk, you may be in luck. According to new research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, people allergic to milk may be able to drink a new kind of hypoallergenic milk, engineered by scientists from New Zealand.

The milk is free of a protein known as β-lactoglobulin, which is known to cause skin allergies, digestive issues and respiratory infections in some people.

"Since the protein is not produced in human milk, it's not surprising that this protein may be recognized as a foreign protein in infants and cause allergies," Stefan Wagner, study author and researcher at AgResearch in New Zealand, told LiveScience.

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Milk allergies affect 1 in 12 infants, though most outgrow the allergy. For years, food manufacturers have broken down whey, a mixture of proteins including β-lactoglobulin, to decrease milk's allergic properties. However, researchers said there is always the risk of exposure.

"Infant formula uses hydrolyzed milk, which is supposed to be much less allergenic, but there is still residual risk to exposure of allergies," Wagner said.

However, while the milk engineered by scientists had only small amounts of β-lactoglobulin, it contained high levels of casein, a non-whey protein that can also cause milk allergies.

"We wouldn't think that this has any relevance to milk allergy; whey protein is one of many, many proteins that people can be allergic to," Robert Wood, allergy and immunology chief at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, who was not involved in the study, told LiveScience.

To decrease the why and β-lactoglobulin levels in the hypoallergenic milk, researchers inserted DNA fragments into cow-lactating tissues, which shut down the production of the protein. Those cells were then transferred into unfertilized egg cells that were implanted into cows. The process resulted in five pregnancies, only one of which resulted in offspring. That offspring, named Daisy, produced the hypoallergenic milk.

While the technique seems promising, researchers were quick to mention that the milk is years away from appearing on grocery shelves, if at all.

"We are nowhere near any clinical tests - what we are currently doing is to show that milk from our transgenic cow is indeed less allergenic," Wagner said.

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