An experimental treatment pioneered by British scientists is helping premature babies survive lethal infections by giving them the right kind of “friendly” gut bacteria.
Early results from an ongoing trial in Norwich involving 240 pre-term infants fed probiotic milk laced with the bugs look “exciting”, say researchers.
The aim is to alter the babies’ gut microbiome – the population of bacteria that occupy their guts – in an attempt to bolster their defences against infection.
In babies born after a full nine months of pregnancy, friendly gut bacteria provide a vital first-line defence against potentially deadly microbial invaders.
Research indicates that premature babies have a completely different population of gut bacteria that is far less effective at keeping out the dangerous bugs.
Around 60,000 babies are born prematurely each year in the UK and are especially vulnerable to potentially fatal complications, infections and harmful bacteria.
Lead scientist Dr Lindsay Hall, from the new Quadram Institute – said:
"We are trying to change the microbial profiles of these premature babies. This research has not yet been published and we are still crunching the numbers, but at the moment the data look really exciting."
Tommy's is encouraged by the positive results from this study, as research is vital so that we can understand how we can best support mothers and babies both before birth and after.
The new study, given the name “Bambi” (baby associated microbiota of the intestine), is targeting necrotising enterocolitis (NEC), one of the most serious infections affecting premature babies.
NEC destroys intestinal tissue, allowing the contents of the gut to leak into the abdomen.
The next step for the researchers will be a much larger multi-centre UK trial.
Protecting your premature baby from infection at home
There are lots of steps you can take to help protect your premature baby from infection.
- Wash your hands with soap and water after changing nappies, preparing food or going to the toilet. You should also wash your hands often if you have a cold.
- Ask visitors to wash their hands when they enter your home.
- Try to restrict the number of other people who hold your baby in the early months, as far as possible.
- In the early weeks, keep your baby away from overcrowded areas, such as shops and restaurants.
- Try to visit public spaces such as GP surgeries or baby clinics at quiet times when your baby will come into contact with fewer people.
- Try to avoid situations with lots of young children, such as playgroups or schools.
- If you have pets, try to keep them away from your baby during the first few weeks.
As your baby gets stronger, you will need to worry about infection less.
Research into premature birth
Research is vital so that we can understand which women are likely to go into labour early, and help them carry their baby for as long as possible.
Tommy’s support cutting-edge work on the causes and prevention of premature birth through our centres in both London and Edinburgh. Clinics at both centres care for mums at risk of preterm birth.