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The Role of HMOs in Reducing NEC

The Role of HMOs in Reducing NEC

Welcoming a new baby into the world should be an exciting time if you're an expecting parent. But when your child is born premature, it's normal to worry about the possible health challenges and complications they may face. Necrotizing enterocolitis, also known as NEC, is a rare condition that premature babies may develop during their first weeks of life. Though NEC can be managed, its effect on a child's health can be serious. NEC prevention may also be possible, according to new preliminary studies. Emerging preclinical research from Johns Hopkins and Abbott suggests that when premature babies are fed breast milk, the presence of human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) in the milk may help reduce their chances of developing NEC. We sat down with Rachael Buck, Ph.D., a research fellow at Abbott Nutrition, to discuss necrotizing enterocolitis and the promising research surrounding it.   What Is Necrotizing Enterocolitis? NEC is a disease that can affect newborns by causing inflammation in their intestines. With NEC, bacteria inside the intestinal tract can leak into the intestinal wall. Babies with NEC require a period of gut rest, which means they are temporarily nourished by intravenous nutrition.  NEC may be fatal, depending upon how severely NEC affects the newborn, Buck explains. The specific cause of NEC is unknown, but it's most often seen in very low birth weight premature babies. In the United States, about 10% of babies who are born prematurely develop NEC. "While there are available NEC treatments, preventive strategies to aid infants at high risk for the disease are needed," says Buck. One prevention strategy that's already showing promise involves the use of HMOs. In new preclinical research from Johns Hopkins and Abbott, HMOs were shown to effectively prevent instances of necrotizing enterocolitis in animal models. What Are Human Milk Oligosaccharides?