Structure and Potential Cellular Targets of HAMLET-like Anti-Cancer Compounds made from Milk Components

J Pharm Pharm Sci. 2015;18(4):773-824. doi: 10.18433/j3g60c.


The HAMLET family of compounds (Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumours) was discovered during studies on the properties of human milk, and is a class of protein-lipid complexes having broad spectrum anti-cancer, and some specific anti-bacterial properties. The structure of HAMLET-like compounds consists of an aggregation of partially unfolded protein making up the majority of the compound's mass, with fatty acid molecules bound in the hydrophobic core. This is a novel protein-lipid structure and has only recently been derived by small-angle X-ray scattering analysis. The structure is the basis of a novel cytotoxicity mechanism responsible for anti-cancer activity to all of the around 50 different cancer cell types for which the HAMLET family has been trialled. Multiple cytotoxic mechanisms have been hypothesised for the HAMLET-like compounds, but it is not yet clear which of those are the initiating cytotoxic mechanism(s) and which are subsequent activities triggered by the initiating mechanism(s). In addition to the studies into the structure of these compounds, this review presents the state of knowledge of the anti-cancer aspects of HAMLET-like compounds, the HAMLET-induced cytotoxic activities to cancer and non-cancer cells, and the several prospective cell membrane and intracellular targets of the HAMLET family. The emerging picture is that HAMLET-like compounds initiate their cytotoxic effects on what may be a cancer-specific target in the cell membrane that has yet to be identified. This article is open to POST-PUBLICATION REVIEW. Registered readers (see "For Readers") may comment by clicking on ABSTRACT on the issue's contents page.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents / isolation & purification
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Cell Membrane / drug effects
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions
  • Lactalbumin / chemistry
  • Lactalbumin / isolation & purification
  • Lactalbumin / pharmacology*
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Oleic Acids / chemistry
  • Oleic Acids / isolation & purification
  • Oleic Acids / pharmacology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • HAMLET complex, human
  • Oleic Acids
  • Lactalbumin