The bone premature infants they are particularly vulnerable to life-threatening events and generally require intensive care and medical intervention to survive. Despite improvements in neonatal intensive care, necrotizing enterocolitis (ENC) remains one of the main causes of morbidity and mortality.
The disease affects 7 to 10% premature infants or 1 to 5% of all unit admissions neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), con a devastating mortality rate of up to 50%. Premature babies fed breast milk is, on average, healthier than formula-fed. However, why this is true remains a mystery.
New research from the Institute of Genome Sciences (IGS) of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Maryland (UMSOM), published in the journal of American Society for Microbiology, found that it’s not just the content of breast milk that makes the difference. It is also how babies digest it.
Led by Bing Ma, an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at UMSOM and a researcher at IGS, a team discovered a Bifidobacterium bacteria strain short oh B. brief in the gut of breastfed babies who received larger volumes of breast milk than their counterparts. These premature babies absorbed nutrients better because they developed an intact gut wall a week after birth.
The probiotic B. breve was much less common in both infants formula fed as in babies breastfed with leaky gut. These latter do not develop a barrier to protect against bacteria and digested foods so they don’t enter the bloodstream. For the first time, the team also discovered that the way B. breve metabolizes breast milk keeps breastfed babies healthier and allows them to gain weight by strengthening their underdeveloped gut barrier. “Our discovery could lead to promising and practical clinical interventions for strengthen babies’ gut and, therefore, increase survival rates for the most vulnerable preemies,” Ma indicated.
It has long been known that the bifidobacteria in the gut or microbiome has health benefits. It includes a diverse set of strains that have very different properties. Some are found only in adults, others in adolescents.
strain, Bifidobacterium infantiswas observed mainly in term infants. scientists for study followed 113 premature babies who were born between weeks 24 and 32 of gestation. They found Bifidobacterium breve only in premature babies who had improved gut barrier function within a week of birth. The researchers found that Bifidobacterium breve is genetically equipped to digest nutrients in the cell membrane instead of the more typical external digestion process in which bacteria secrete digestive enzymes onto nutrients to break them down.
At the most basic level, the gut microbiome of those preemies breastfed with more B. breve metabolizes carbohydrates differently than with formula. The researchers say they hypothesize that this metabolic process strengthens and matures the intestinal barrier more quickly, protect fragile newborns from disease.
“We now know that it’s not just breast milk that helps premature babies develop their gut barrier faster. We will have to find the best way to prophylactically administer B. in short early in life, rather than relying on transmission through breast milk or even the mother’s gut or vaginal microbiota during the birthing process. This is especially critical in formula-fed premature babies,” Ma said.
The scientists noted in their paper that further study was needed to determine whether B. breve originated from breast milk, the gut, the mother’s vagina, or even the environment. E. Albert Reece, executive vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland and dean of UMSOM, concluded, “This research has the potential to have enormous impact on a global scale. Last resort, could save thousands of premature babies from permanent disability or death associated with an immature, leaky gut that allows deadly bacteria to enter.