Presence of certain bacteria could indicate dangerous infant disorder

A new biomarker discovered by researchers at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center may help prevent a serious medical condition that occurs mostly in premature or sick infants.

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is characterized by tissue death, or necrosis, in portions of the bowel. About one of every 10 early preterm infants suffers from the condition, and depending on severity, the disease has a death rate of about 30%. Even babies that survive NEC could have lingering side effects--they are at risk for short-bowel syndrome, caused by surgical removal of the small intestine, and neurodevelopmental disability.

A research team led by Ardythe Morrow analyzed stool and urine samples from 32 infants--born at less than 29 weeks gestational age--before onset of disease and found that two distinct microbial imbalances in the digestive tract preceded NEC.

"Using a combination of early microbial factors, we obtained a predictive value for NEC exceeding 80 percent," Morrow said in a statement. "This requires validation in larger studies, but the findings are striking."

Of the 32 infants, 11 developed NEC. In all of the 11 NEC cases, researchers detected high amounts of certain bacteria in the intestinal tract--either firmicutes in the first week of life or proteobacteria in the second week. In half of those who did not develop NEC, dominance of proteobacteria also occurred. The study is published in the journal Microbiome.

The authors acknowledge that more research is needed, but the findings suggest that early microbial signatures may serve as highly predictive biomarkers.

- here's the press release
- check out the study abstract