November 26, 2004

NZ Researchers Discover Lactoferrin for Osteoporosis Treatment

NZ researchers discover lactoferrin for osteoporosis treatment

WELLINGTON, Nov. 25 (Xinhua) -- New Zealand researchers have discovered remarkable bone-building properties in the milk protein lactoferrin, which could lead to new treatments for osteoporosis.

Auckland's Osteoporosis Research Group has found that the milk protein, already produced commercially by New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra and the Tatua dairy company, not only inhibits bone breakdown but boosts bone growth four times faster than normal when injected directly into bone cells, New Zealand Press Association reported Thursday.

Research leader Jill Cornish unveiled the findings at the World Dairy Summit in Melbourne Wednesday.

The injection of lactoferrin had resulted in such "phenomenal bone growth" and it could be applied directly to fractures to promote faster healing, Cornish said.

The research is part of the LactoPharma project - a joint venture between Fonterra and Auckland UniServices - set up to discover and commercialize new bioactive components in milk and colostrum.

There was still a lot of work to be done, Cornish said. But there was every reason to hope that these findings could result in new drugs and nutraceuticals for the prevention and cure of osteoporosis.

The dairy industry has touted the wider benefits of lactoferrin for about a decade.

"It's a goody molecule," Cornish said. "It is good for the immune system. It's anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal. When white blood cells respond to infection, they spurt out lactoferrin naturally."

LactoPharma has already filed patent applications for lactoferrin as a bone-growth promoter.

It also plans to patent two new receptors that the team has uncovered on bone-forming cells.

Receptors and molecules like lactoferrin had a lock and key relationship, which together could activate the process that makes new bone, Cornish said.

Once LactoPharma has established the patents and put together a portfolio of intellectual property it will be in a position to commercially license the technology.

Fonterra will be well-positioned to develop it further but is likely to be most interested in developing lactoferrin as a nutraceutical to be consumed in dairy drinks and foods as a preventative to osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is estimated to affect 200 million people worldwide, and costs New Zealand about 200 million NZ dollars ( about 140 million US dollars) in health care and related costs.

So far there is only one osteoporosis drug on the market that can enhance the process of bone formation, Cornish said.

New Zealand dairy companies already commercially produce lactoferrin. It sells for 500 NZ dollars (about 350 US dollars) a kilogram in Japan and Korea.

About 10,000 tons of milk are used to produce one tonne of lactoferrin.