Major study in Norwich to provide probiotic boost for premature babies

Quadrum Institute Norwich Research Park Norwich Hospital Dr Dr Lindsay Hall Pictures: BRITTANY WOODM

Quadrum Institute Norwich Research Park Norwich Hospital Dr Dr Lindsay Hall Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN - Credit: Archant

Improving probiotic health in premature babies has been the centre of a new study led by Norwich researchers.

The Quadram Institute has worked in partnership with the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital’s NICU unit to ensure vulnerable babies get the healthiest start in life.

According to Quadram researchers, 1 in 9 babies born prematurely may not establish the health early microbiome, or gut bacteria, which can help them fight potential infections which babies born at full-term develop fully.

The team led by Dr Lindsay Hall, looked at a probiotic supplement with specific bacterial strains to help pre-term babies etablish a “normal” microbiome system.

An Institute spokesman said: “Preterm babies are more likely to have been delivered by Caesarean section, potentially missing out on picking up beneficial microbes from mother, a problem confounded by lengthy spells in neonatal intensive care units.

“Almost all preterms receive at least one course of antibiotics, with some having numerous courses. These may be vital to saving lives, but will also damage the susceptible “good” bacteria.”

The research team carried out observational studies of 101 infants taking the supplement at the NNUH’s NICU unit with 133 babies at other NICUs not providing the supplement.

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Both groups of babies also received breat milk, either from their mothers or donors.

The study found breast milk consumption itself was not sufficient to encourage high levels of the bacteria without the probiotic supplementation.

Professor Paul Clarke, from the NNUH, said: “Our neonatal unit is proud to have played an integral part in this major study. We’re thrilled to see the results published after many years’ hard work.

“While our NICU has been giving probiotics routinely to protect very preterm babies since 2013, this study gives us a much better understanding of the mechanisms by which they benefit from us putting billions of live bacteria into their immature gut daily.

“This study would not have been possible without the efforts of our neonatal unit’s research and clinical nurses in collecting numerous study samples.

“We are especially indebted to all parents who allowed their babies to take part, and who continued to support the BAMBI study when their babies went home; we look forward to sharing the results with them.”