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Harvard Biochemist Discovers New Hormone in Mothers' Milk

By Laurence S. Grafstein

A recently discovered factor in human milk which stimulates the growth and division of cells may help to promote the maturation and development of certain tissues in new born infants, a Harvard researcher said yesterday.

The growth factor may be important for infants in underdeveloped countries with a low level of nutrution, said Dr. Michael Klagsburn, assistant professor of surgery at the Medical School who reported his discovery of the hormone in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

However, Klagsburn said, he could not speculate whether his find supports breast-feeding rather than the use of infant formulas in underdeveloped regions of the world.

While he could not detect the growth factor in any one of several infant formulas tested, Klagsbrun said it may have been present in low levels because "in the laboratory we used small samples."

Klagsburn, who did his biochemical research with human skin cells, said it is still too early to tell what the hormone's actual target is, although he speculates it may be the lining of the gut in the gastro-intestinal system.

Dr. David Tapper, chief resident in pediatric surgery at Children's Hospital Medical Center, said yesterday he hopes the growth factor will eventually be used to treat seriously ill children with intestinal tract ailments.

"If it turns out that the target is the gastro-intestinal system, and if we can purify the factor, then we might be able to help children who can't be breast-fed for one reason or another,' Tapper said yesterday.

Breast-milk is like a neonatal candy store with little goodies for all the kids. This is just a new treat," he added.

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