A simple test to help doctors get a devastating disease in which half of all babies who develop it early is killed is soon possible, a new study suggests.
Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) kills around 500 babies – the vast majority prematurely – in the US every year. Often, by the time babies are diagnosed, the disease is so far advanced that babies only have days or hours to live.
An earlier diagnosis can be the difference between life and death for these babies.
Researchers at Louisiana State University (LSU) have identified a protein that can be found in the fecal specimens of infants and predicts the development of NEC with an accuracy of up to 97 percent – perhaps even before symptoms occur.
X-rays such as these are currently being used to diagnose necrotizing entercolitis, but they are only about 44% accurate in catching a disease that kills premature babies within hours or days. A new study suggests that a diagnostic test for a protein can predict the disease before it starts
According to the NEC Society, NEC is a major cause of children's death in the US and claims the lives of more babies than flu, allergies, car accidents, suffocation, and crib accidents.
Although there is a form of the disease that affects full-term babies, the variety is milder, while the disease is serious and often fatal for premature babies.
It is not clear what exactly causes NEC, but we do know that it starts with inflammation in the large or small intestine, causing bacteria to enter the intestines and colon, kill the tissue and possibly end up outside the organs.
It's hard to catch – babies with NEC often seem picky and don't feed well, but these are fairly common symptoms or behaviors in premature babies.
The disease moves so fast that by the time parents and doctors recognize it, these infants may not have a point in returning.
It is currently being diagnosed with the help of X-rays.
But these often have to be done to monitor the disease as soon as it is suspected, because it progresses alarmingly fast, only works when the disease is already serious and their detection success rate can be as low as 44 percent.
A blood test is not an option for the premature babies most affected by the disease, since these babies have approximately 40 ml of blood and need approximately 5 ml for a test, causing anemia or other dangerous conditions can act for them.
Dr. Sunyoung Kim, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at LSU, told DailyMail.com that & # 39; Louisiana has one of the highest NEC rates in the country, so neonatologists practically stormed my door. & # 39;
They wanted a faster, safer test for NEC.
So she and her team went looking for a biomarker, something unique in the bodies of babies with or at risk of NEC that could distract scientists from the devastating disease.
What they found was a protein called intestinal alkaline phosphatase (iAP).
The protein is & # 39; responsible for talking to the bacteria present in our gut & # 39; and alert the immune system to the presence of an intruder, Dr. Kim.
In faecal samples taken from 136 premature babies, they found that among the 18 percent of those who developed NEC, the levels of iAP were not only high, but the protein was broken or & # 39; dysfunctional & # 39 ;.
In the samples of suspected cases, the proteins were only partially functional.
& # 39; The research was successful beyond our imagination because it is (present) at the start of an inflammation & # 39 ;, says Dr. Kim.
& # 39; It is the first protein that says: & # 39; Hey, you sitting here helping or hurting, & she adds, referring to the healthy versus invasive bacteria.
Symptoms and visible markers of NEC are similar to those of sepsis and other bacterial infections.
But more importantly, the iAP biomarker was unique to NEC.
Dr. Kim says she and her team hope that, based on this research, they can develop a simple, non-invasive test that could not only detect but predict NEC, potentially saving the lives of hundreds of babies.
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