Antibiotics can save lives, but more and more pathogens are becoming resistant to current drugs. The global society is aware about that problem and is working on sustainable solutions to handle it. Hans-Jürgen Heidebrecht and his start-up Doderm have developed an antibiotic substitute - made from whey. The big players in the food industry are interested in his research. They want to use it for food supplements. And it could also play a role in curing humans and animals.
Heidebrecht - who studied food and bioprocess engineering - began looking into the subject in his award-winning doctoral thesis. Calves get antibodies through their mother's milk that stimulate their immune systems. What is good for calves could also serve humans, the idea goes. In the Weihenstephan test barn, the researcher immunized cows with inactivated human pathogens. And lo and behold, they produce pathogen-specific antibodies that are detectable in the milk. "The cow is our bioreactor," says Heidebrecht, 35, adding that milk also naturally contains antibodies that are effective against a wide range of pathogens. So you could just drink milk, but when heated, much of the protective effect is lost. That's how the researcher came up with whey, a byproduct of cheese production. He succeeded in isolating various antibodies from it.
These antibodies are just coming into the focus of the food industry, says Heidebrecht, "Lactoferrin, for example, promises a multi-million dollar growth market." For farmers and dairies, the use of whey means an additional source of income; they can sell it profitably to the food, cosmetics, or pharmaceutical industries. For the founder, too, the effort has already paid off. The start-up produces an antibiotic gel for dogs, developed with veterinarians. You apply it to the skin, it sells well. The study is now to be extended to horses.
Heidebrecht is from Kiel, a city in northern Germany. "I already made wine from various fruits in the cellar when I was a student," he says and laughs. Because „The Technical University of Munich” (TUM) is considered a leader in food technology, he moved from the Baltic Sea to Upper Bavaria. And when he has time besides research and his family - he has just become a father - he devotes himself to his craft beer company and also unconsciously turns into a member of the global society with his sustainable idea that might help to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Natural antibiotics entail hazards in addition to potential benefits. Even yet, more chemicals are being examined and more study is being done on these treatments. Natural antibiotics that have been used for generations may help develop life-saving medications in the future. Support, funds and more investigation in the sector of alternative medicine can help find more sustainable alternatives and improve the global health system.