News article

Probiotics decreases risk of necrotizing enterocolitis in premature newborns

Posted:  Monday, October 20, 2014

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is the second most common cause of death in premature infants causing damage to the intestinal lining. Exclusive breastfeeding confers a protective effect against this infection, whereas formula fed infants are vulnerable.

Fortifying the infant formula with probiotics for improved gut microbial composition is believed to be the next alternative to breast feeding, but identifying the bacterial strain has been a matter of great research. A team of US researchers have found that adding the bacteria Bifidobacterium longum subsp. infantis (B. infantis) to formula fed to premature rats decreased the incidence of NEC. This encouraging finding was published in the journal Pediatric Research.

The study investigators evaluated premature newborn rats after they were allowed to nurse or were fed either a milk substitute or milk substitute fortified with B. infantis. The rats were then exposed to brief episodes of low oxygen and cold temperature for a period of 4 days to induce stressful conditions leading to NEC. Subsequently, the rat intestines were examined for evidence of the infection.

They found that the breastfed rats did not develop NEC, whereas those fed with the unfortified formula developed it at twice the rate of those given the fortified formula. Those on the probiotic fortified formula displayed inflammatory responses that were more similar to the nursed rats than to the rats given unfortified formula. Surprisingly, however, the researchers did not find any difference in the microbial environment of the 2 formula-fed rats.

The strain of probiotic bacteria used in the study, B. Infantis, is said to confer additional protection in comparison to the other Bifidobacterium species. Its ability to adhere to cells lining the intestine and colonize the intestinal tract is better, and it is associated with improved growth in human babies as well as increased responsiveness to childhood vaccines. Bifidobacterium infantis is part of the normal gastrointestinal flora of human infants who are breast fed.

Speaking about the study findings, Mark Underwood, the lead researcher of the study said, "The discovery in an experimental model that this organism can dramatically reduce the risk of developing necrotizing enterocolitis is very encouraging. It potentially offers another important strategy for prevention of this very difficult-to-treat disease."

It is believed that an altered microbial environment is associated with NEC, but whether it is the cause or a consequence of the disease is unclear. Understanding the mechanism behind NEC would help in developing preventive and therapeutic strategies to counter it effectively. The present study is of importance as it sets the stage for clinical trials in premature human infants.

For study details:-Click Here!