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The Benefit of Faecal Transplant in Premature Babies

BOWEL DISEASE in premature babies presents a significant impact on survival rates, with the immaturity of the gastrointestinal tract causing bacterial hypersensitivity in many children. New research has investigated the role of faeces transplantation in babies born prematurely to protect them from necrotising enterocolitis (NEC), of which up to 40% of cases are fatal.

Across the world, 5–10% of births are premature, meaning a large number of children are highly susceptible to serious bowel infections. To tackle this issue, researchers from the University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark used premature piglets to investigate a new method of protecting newborns from NEC: faecal transplantation. With the gastrointestinal tracts of humans and pigs exhibiting similar features, and pigs having the ability to also develop serious bowel infections, 130 piglets were selected for investigation. “From previous studies among pigs, we know that neither probiotics nor faeces from the mother are as effective as faeces transplantation,” explained first author Mr Anders Brunse, Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, University of Copenhagen.

After measuring changes in intestinal bacteria composition following faecal transplantation via the rectal opening, the team showed that the piglets had an increase in the number of bacteria in the bowel, as well as the introduction of normal bacterial flora, meaning the bowel environment was more mature and protective from serious infection. Overall, 75% fewer cases of NEC were observed.  Forming part of the NEOMUNE project, which aims to develop new diet and gut microbiota treatments for newborn infants, this study shows how faecal transplantation has the potential to enhance survival rates for many newborn babies. Prof Per Torp Sanglid, Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, University of Copenhagen, concluded: “If these results can be transferred to children born prematurely, this form of treatment can save lives and possibly reduce the amount of antibiotics given to these patients.”