A simple test designed to help doctors develop a devastating disease that kills half of all infants who develop them early may soon be on the way, according to a new study.
Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) kills around 500 babies each year in the US – by far the most of them are premature. When babies are diagnosed, the disease is often so advanced that infants may only have days or hours to live.
Earlier diagnosis could mean the difference between life and death for these babies.
Researchers at Louisiana State University (LSU) have identified a protein that can be found in stool samples from babies, and predict the development of NEC with an accuracy of up to 97 percent ̵
X-rays like these are currently used to diagnose necrotizing entercolitis, but they are only 44% accurate when it comes to detecting a disease that prematurely kills infants within hours or days. A new study suggests that a diagnostic test for a protein might predict the disease before it starts.
NEC is one of the most common causes of death in infants in the US, claiming that more infants die than flu, allergies, car accidents, suffocation and crib accidents, according to the NEC Society.
Although there is one form of the disease that affects full-time children, this strain is milder, while the premature birth disease is severe and often fatal.
It is not clear what exactly causes NEC, but we know that it starts with inflammation in the large or small intestine, which allows bacteria to invade the colon and colon, killing the tissue and possibly beyond the organs reach.
It's hard to catch – babies with NEC just seem fussy and do not feed well, but these are fairly common symptoms or behaviors in premature babies.
The disease is progressing so fast that parents and doctors realize that these babies may not be able to return.
Currently the diagnosis is made using X-rays.
However, these must be done frequently to monitor the disease as soon as it suspects it is progressing alarmingly fast. They only work if the disease is already severe and their detection success rate is only 44 percent.
A blood test is not an option for preterm infants who are most likely to be affected by the disease, as these babies have about 40 ml of blood and about 5 ml must be withdrawn for a test, which triggers anemia or other dangerous conditions.
Dr. Sunyoung Kim, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at LSU, told DailyMail.com, "Louisiana has one of the highest NEC rates in the country, so the neonatologists practically stormed my door."
They wanted a faster and safer test for NEC.
So, she and her team were looking for a biomarker that would be unique in the bodies of babies with or without NEC risk and could alert scientists to the devastating disease.
They found a protein called intestinal alkaline phosphatase (iAP).
The protein is "responsible for communicating with the bacteria in our intestines" and alerting the immune system to the presence of an intruder Kim.
In stool specimens from 136 preterm infants, they found that among the 18 percent of them who developed NEC, iAP levels were not only high, but also that the protein was broken or "did not work".
In samples from infants with suspected cases, the proteins were only partially functional.
"The study was successful beyond our imagination as it [present] is at the onset of inflammation," says Dr. Kim.
"It's the first protein that says, 'Hey, people in here are helping or hurting you,' she adds, referring to the healthy versus invasive bacteria.
Symptoms and visible markers of NEC similar to those of sepsis and other bacterial infections.
Importantly, the iAP biomarker is only used by NEC.
Dr. Kim says that she and her team hope that after this study, a simple, Being able to develop a non-invasive test that not only allows NEC to recognize but predict and potentially save the lives of hundreds of people infants.