2016 Articles and Releases

CDI-supported Research Links Gut Microbes to Deadly Intestinal Disease in Preemies

Analyzing gut bacteria in premature infants, the study shows that babies who developed necrotizing enterocolitis had a different mix of microbes in their intestines than babies who never developed the condition. The diverging microbial communities were observed before any evidence of disease, suggesting it may be possible to prevent the illness by keeping the balance of gut microbes in check.

The study appears online March 8 in The Lancet.

“Premature infants who survive the first two weeks of life have a much higher risk of dying of necrotizing enterocolitis than of anything else,” said corresponding author Phillip I. Tarr, MD, the Melvin E. Carnahan Professor of Pediatrics. “We’re pleased that our work now identifies classes of bacteria on which to focus future investigations of treatment and prevention strategies. We would like this study to open discussions about what the next steps should be to protect premature infants from this destructive disease.”

The researchers showed, in general, that babies who developed necrotizing enterocolitis had higher proportions of Gram-negative bacteria and lower proportions of strictly anaerobic bacteria — those that live without oxygen — in their guts compared with babies who didn’t develop the disease.

The Gram-negative bacteria implicated in the study are classified as Gammaproteobacteria and include organisms well-known for causing serious infections and driving inflammation, such as 
Escherichia coli(E. coli), Klebsiella and Enterobacter. The study also suggested that having more anaerobic bacteria in the gut protects against necrotizing enterocolitis. Such organisms included classes of bacteria called Clostridia and Negativicutes, which might possess anti-inflammatory capabilities.

“The holy grail for necrotizing enterocolitis is prevention,” said first author Barbara B. Warner, MD, professor of pediatrics. “Despite aggressive treatment with antibiotics and surgery, infants who develop the most severe form of necrotizing enterocolitis die within hours.”
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