Researchers have found possible targets for the early treatment of brain damage in premature babies in their gut.

 Premature babies, infants who are born before 37 weeks of pregnancy have been completed, often have complicated medical problems and are at increased risk of chronic health issues such as hypertension, cardiovascular events, diabetes, etc. Especially extremely premature infants or those born very early often are known to be at a high risk for brain damage. But surprisingly the development of neurological damage in premature babies begins in their gut, as suggested by researchers.

A new study has also linked the overgrowth of the gastrointestinal tract with the bacterium Klebsiella to the development of neurological damage in premature babies. Based on their finding, the authors from the University of Vienna concluded that gut bacteria could be possible targets for the early treatment of brain damage in premature infants.

How gut bacteria influences brain damage

It is known that the early development of the gut, the brain and the immune system are closely interrelated, which is referred to this as the gut-immune-brain axis. The University of Vienna research team wanted to investigate the role of this axis in the brain development of extreme preterm infants.

In healthy people, the microorganisms of the gut microbiome are in equilibrium. However, shifts are quite likely to occur in premature babies whose immune system and microbiome have not been able to develop fully, and this imbalance may result in negative effects on the brain, explained David Seki, the first author of the study.

In their study, the researchers found that excessive growth of the bacterium Klebsiella in the gut was associated with an increased presence of T-cells, which apparently exacerbate brain damage in premature babies.

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Ways to avoid brain damage in premature infants

The research team were also able to identify certain patterns in the microbiome and immune response that could be associated with the progression and severity of brain injury.

According to David Berry, microbiologist and head of the research group, such patterns often show up prior to changes in the brain. “This suggests a critical time window during which brain damage of extremely premature infants may be prevented from worsening or even avoided,” Science Daily quoted him as saying.

Hence, the study concluded that possible targets for the early treatment of brain damage in premature infants may lie in the gut.

For the study, the researchers monitored 60 premature infants, born before 28 weeks gestation and weighing less than 1 kilogram, for several weeks. They examined the microbiome, analysed blood and stool samples, brain wave recordings and MRI images of the infants’ brains.

Causes of premature birth

In most cases, the exact cause of premature birth isn’t known. However, certain factors are known to increase risk of premature delivery. These include:

  • Pregnancy with twins or multiples
  • Less than six months of interval of between pregnancies
  • Conceiving through IVF
  • Problems with the uterus, cervix or placenta
  • Having a previous premature birth
  • Smoking or use of illicit drugs
  • Certain health conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes
  • Being underweight or overweight before pregnancy
  • Multiple miscarriages or abortions
  • Physical injury or trauma

But women who have no known risk factors can also have premature birth.

This post first appeared on The Health Site

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