Scientists at Loyola University and their colleagues say they've identified two potential biomarkers for a serious bowel infection in infants.
The Journal of Pediatric Surgery published their findings and Contemporary Pediatrics outlined highlights of their work.
Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is the condition for which they are seeking better diagnostic biomarkers and treatment options. According to the NIH, it hits 7% of infants born with very low birth weight and nearly 2% of infants born prematurely--as well as occasionally in infants born at term. It's fatal up to 40% of the time, and with tissue death in portions of the bowel, NEC can leave survivors with neurodevelopmental and bowel problems, impairing their quality of life and necessitating costly treatment.
Modern technology has enabled more successful premature and low-weight births, but health complications such as this come in tandem with those gains. Biomarkers that help predict the onset of NEC or hint at its possible development will give doctors the opportunity to swoop in with preventive treatments, or at least intervene sooner in a bid to help boost a child's chances for stronger recovery.
For their work, the Loyola-led team looked at 177 infants either born at or before 32 weeks' gestation, according to Contemporary Pediatrics. Of that number, 15 developed NEC. Regarding the NEC infants, 40% required surgery and 20% died. In most of the NEC infants, they found that decreased levels of reticulated platelets appear to mark the condition. A smaller majority of the infants who developed NEC were determined to have inflated levels of intestinal alkaline phosphatase (iAP).
More studies are needed, but if new research can support these earlier findings, then doctors will have two new biomarkers that could improve treatment for infants who face NEC. It is a research area that has attracted others. Last year, a team at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center found two distinct microbial imbalances in the digestive tract (high amounts of firmicutes or proteobacteria) that seem to occur in premature or sick infants and was a precursor to NEC.