Nav: Home

Protein in breast milk reduces infection risk in premature infants

July 25, 2016

COLUMBIA, Mo. (July 25, 2016) -- Full-term babies receive natural protection from their mothers that helps them fight off dangerous infections. However, babies born prematurely lack protective intestinal bacteria and often are unable to be nursed, causing their infection-fighting capabilities to be underdeveloped. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine and the MU Sinclair School of Nursing have found that a manufactured form of lactoferrin, a naturally occurring protein in breast milk, can help protect premature infants from a type of staph infection.

"Babies born with low levels of protective intestinal bacteria are at an increased risk of devastating and sometimes deadly infections," said Michael Sherman, M.D., professor emeritus in the Department of Child Health at the MU School of Medicine and lead author of the study. "Our study found that giving very-low-birth-weight premature infants a manufactured form of lactoferrin can virtually eliminate the germ that causes a staph infection known as staphylococcus epidermidis."

The researchers studied the immune systems of 120 premature infants in the neonatal intensive care units at MU Women's and Children's Hospital and the University of Southern California Children's Hospital Los Angeles between July 2009 and January 2012. Infants in the trial weighed between 1 pound, 10 ounces, and 3 pounds, 4 ounces, at birth. Sixty of the infants received lactoferrin via a feeding tube twice a day for 28 days to simulate receiving mother's milk while nursing.

To understand the protein's role in the development of protective intestinal bacteria, the researchers examined fecal matter of the infants. The researchers found that germs responsible for the colonization of staph infection were virtually eliminated in the newborns who received lactoferrin.

"These germs are the most common cause of in-hospital bloodstream infections in premature babies, causing up to 50 percent of infections," Sherman said. "As physicians, we've had limited knowledge of how lactoferrin affects the development of protective intestinal bacteria. Our study shows that it can modify germs in the bowel of infants, and those germs can protect premature babies from staph infections."

As part of the study, lactoferrin was provided to the patients at no cost. According to Sherman, lactoferrin can cost an estimated $25 to $500 per dose, though an infection can extend an infant's hospital stay by 10 to 14 days at a cost of $40,000 to $56,000.

Though it is too early to recommend lactoferrin as a standard treatment protocol in NICUs across the country, the researchers say more research could shed light on its role in preventing infections.

"These vulnerable babies need all the support they can get to fight off infections," Sherman said. "Our results justify the need for a large-scale trial of lactoferrin, as well as its counterpart derived from cow milk, bovine lactoferrin."
-end-
The study, "Randomized Control Trial of Human Recombinant Lactoferrin: A Substudy Reveals Effects on the Fecal Microbiome of Very Low Birth Weight Infants," recently was published by The Journal of Pediatrics. Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institutes of Health (HD05774) and the Gerber Foundation (PN002-1214-2708). The authors received an honorarium to serve as members of the Mead Johnson Pediatric Institute Bioactive Expert Panel to write the manuscript. The sponsor had no involvement in preparing the manuscript, and the authors are entirely and exclusively responsible for its content.

In addition to Michael Sherman, the research team included Jan Sherman, Ph.D., R.N., a teaching professor at the MU Sinclair School of Nursing; Roxanne Arcinue, M.D., a neonatologist at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children in Honolulu, Hawaii; and Victoria Niklas, M.D., a scientist at Prolacta in Los Angeles and a clinical professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

About the MU School of Medicine

The MU School of Medicine has improved health, education and research in Missouri and beyond for more than 165 years. MU physicians treat patients from every county in the state, and more Missouri physicians received their medical degrees from MU than from any other university. For more information, visit http://medicine.missouri.edu/.

University of Missouri-Columbia

Related Breast Milk Articles:

Informal sharing of breast milk gains popularity among women, despite safety risks
Women who are unable to produce enough breast milk for their children are increasingly turning to 'mother-to-mother' informal milk-sharing, a potentially unsafe practice that is discouraged by the pediatric medical community, according to new research being presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 2019 National Conference & Exhibition.
Compound in breast milk fights harmful bacteria
A compound in human breast milk fights infections by harmful bacteria while allowing beneficial bacteria to thrive, according to researchers at National Jewish Health and the University of Iowa.
Breast milk analyses show new opportunities for reducing risk of childhood obesity
The composition of breast milk in normal weight mothers differs from that of overweight mothers, and variations in small molecule metabolites found in breast milk are possible risk factors for childhood obesity.
Can human breast milk reduce intestinal injury following bone marrow transplant?
A new pilot study compared the use of human breast milk to formula in children less than five years of age who underwent bone marrow transplant, measuring the levels of inflammatory and pro-inflammatory biomarkers in the stool and blood to assess inflammatory injury to the intestinal microbiome.
Breast milk as drug-delivery device
Treating sick babies with engineered breast milk could someday be a reality, according to an article in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society.
Breast milk microbiome contains yeast and fungi: Do these benefit the infant?
Investigators have now shown that the breast milk microbiome contains fungi.
Breast milk & babies' saliva shape oral microbiome
Newborn breastfed babies' saliva combines with breastmilk to release antibacterial compounds that help to shape the bacterial communities (microbiota) in babies' mouths, biomedical scientists have found.
Breast milk, formula nurture similarities, differences in gut microbes
Baby formula is designed to mimic human breast milk as closely as possible.
Breast milk may be best for premature babies' brain development
Babies born before their due date show better brain development when fed breast milk rather than formula, a study from the University of Edinburgh has found.
Scientists identified enzyme in milk production as target for novel breast cancer drugs
VCU Massey Cancer Center researchers have identified a protein involved in milk production that stimulates the growth and spread of breast cancer and could ultimately serve as a target for novel therapies to treat breast cancer.
More Breast Milk News and Breast Milk Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.