Hollis Johnson/INSIDER
  • Biomilq is the first lab-grown milk with the nutritional components and complexity of breast milk.
  • Two female scientists launched the startup to provide a superior-to-formula breast milk alternative.
  • The product should launch in about three years.
  • Visit Business Insider SA's homepage for more stories.

Parents who can't or choose not to breastfeed should have a superior-to-formula option in just a few years, scientists say.

The product, Biomilq, is the world's first lab-grown breast milk. Its founders now say they've proven Biomilq's nutrition profile matches the hundreds of proteins, complex carbs, fatty acids, and other lipids "abundantly present" in breast milk as closely as possible.

The company says Biomilq is more than just a collection of the components of breast milk.

"Our core hypothesis has always been that milk is greater than the sum of its parts, which all work together as a dynamic system," co-founder and chief science officer Leila Strickland said in a press release. "Our latest work demonstrates that much of the complexity of milk can be achieved by replicating the intricate relationship between the cells that produce it and the conditions they experience inside the body during lactation."

Two female scientists launched the startup in 2019

Biomilq was born from a personal pain point. Strickland's son was born early, he had trouble latching, and Strickland, a cell biologist, struggled to stimulate enough milk. She ended up "pumping constantly," she previously told Insider, and felt worn down by messaging that if breastfeeding didn't come easily, she just had to try harder.

She began growing mammary cells in a lab in 2013, but it wasn't until 2019 that she partnered with food scientist Michelle Egger to launch the startup Biomilq.

Leila Strickland (left) and Michelle Egger.
BIOMILQ

In February 2020, the pair announced their lab-grown mammary cells made the two key components of breast milk: lactose and casein - a pivotal step in creating a cultured breast milk that's "nutritionally equivalent" to the real thing.

Then, in June 2020, the pair announced they'd secured $3.5 million from investors, including Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Bill Gates' billion dollar fund focused on climate change.

Egger told Insider the team expects to launch the breast milk product in just over three years, once they've learned more about how the cells best thrive outside the body, checked all the safety boxes, and gained approval from regulators.

Biomilq will look similar to milk, she said, and the team is strategising how to reduce costs so the product won't be significantly more expensive than formula.

"We look forward to providing a product that overcomes financial, geographic, and time barriers that would otherwise limit access to another infant feeding option," Egger said.

Biomilq isn't superior to breast milk

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of life since extensive research links breastfeeding with a host of physical and mental health benefits for both the birthing parent and baby, including protection from childhood leukaemia and bonding between parent and infant.

Formula - while "a safe, relatively affordable, thoughtfully designed, rigorously tested, and continually improving" alternative, according to paediatrician Dr. Kelly Fradin - can't replicate all of those benefits since it's not human-made. Instead, it comes from cows, plants, or both.

Formula can also be harder for the baby to digest and doesn't adapt to the infant's changing needs like breast milk.

Biomilq's founders don't claim their product is identical to breast milk in every way - it doesn't morph to a specific baby's needs, offer the same protections for a baby's immune system, or reflect a mother's diet.

"We have no intention to replace chestfeeding, so we're comfortable with the differences between our product and breast milk," Egger said in the press release. "Instead, we intend to offer parents another supplemental feeding option to nourish healthier babies, empower parents through choice, and contribute to a healthier planet."

The product could especially benefit non-biological parents and babies with allergies

Clare Rager, a mom in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who breastfed her now-toddler for the first four months, previously told Insider she's on board with cultured breast milk.

She thinks it could especially come in handy for dads, non-biological parents, or parents whose babies have food allergies. She wouldn't choose it over human breast milk, though, due to its inability to transmit antibodies and build up the baby's immune system.

Another mom told Insider she worried the product could make parents feel even worse about choosing formula over breastfeeding.

Fradin, the paediatrician, is more hopeful.

"I am so glad to see technology innovate around the subject of feeding babies," she told Insider. "It's hard to imagine the product reaching large-scale distribution due to barriers such as cost, convenience, and safety, but I agree with their founders that there is a lot of room for research to improve our understanding of breast milk."

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