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Necrotizing enterocolitis: a life-threatening condition in premature babies

Posted at 7:05 AM, Mar 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-11 10:39:02-04

TUCSON, Ariz. — A life-threatening condition in premature babies has University of Arizona researchers and experts at Banner University Medical Center looking for a solution.

Its called necrotizing enterocolitis: an inflammatory disorder in the intestines.

This happens primarily in premature babies because of their underdeveloped intestine's inability to keep bacteria from invading.

"Its something that occurs unexpectedly, without anticipation or warning. And can be very devastating to a baby's health," said Alan Bedrick, a neonatologist at BUMC.

In its severe cases the baby can die. So researchers in the UA College of Medicine and the Department of Pediatrics at BUMC are doing translational and clinical research on this issue.

"By looking at samples of stool on these babies, every single stool, looking for certain substances that if they change in concentration, may actually predict which babies are at higher risk for NEC," said Bedrick.

Giving researchers and preemies an earlier start to avoiding the disease.

"I don't know that it will protect babies, but it certainly gives us another tool in caring for these babies, in identifying an infant who may be at higher risk," said Bedrick.

A big factor in the rate of developing necrotizing enterocolitis can stem from being fed breast milk or formula the weeks after birth. Bedrick said about 10-percent of babies in any given NICU may get this disease. But the numbers at BUMC in Tucson, are generally lower since the hospital is a huge supporter of using mother's milk to feed their babies.