Scientists from the Universities of Southampton and Reading have embarked on groundbreaking three-year human trials seeking to establish whether drinking cow’s milk can help boost the human body’s immune system.

Following on from successful experiments conducted on mice and rats in the US, the British scientists are focusing on conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) to see if the fat, which is only found in cow’s milk, can help the body fight viral infections and perhaps even reduce the growth of cancerous tumours.

Dr Philip Calder, leading the project, commented: “CLA might protect against cancer [because] it improves the ability of the immune system to seek out and destroy tumours.

“We will be testing out two different forms of CLA, which we believe are the most important, giving people three increasing doses over a six-month period to find the type and dose that produces health benefits,” he explained.

The £810,000 (US$1.2m) study has been funded by the Milk Development Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and it is hoped that if the health benefits of CLA are proved, a new range of functional dairy products could provide a welcome boost for farmers.