Thursday, April 11, 2013

Probiotic gives new hope to premature babies

The evidence is not exactly rigorous but the treatment seems good news nonetheless

Australian doctors have discovered a cheap and simple solution to a deadly health problem suffered by very premature babies.

One in eight babies born in Australia are born premature, and many babies born eight weeks early can develop a serious bowel condition called necrotising enterocolitis, or NEC.

The potentially fatal condition, which occurs because the baby's gut is colonised by bad bacteria instead of good bacteria, can require surgery and multiple hospital visits.

Babies with the illness can also have neurological complications such as cerebral palsy.

Dr Girish Deshpande from Sydney's Nepean Hospital says there are not many effective treatments for the condition, so prevention is the best option.

Because of this, doctors at the hospital have been trialling a probiotic supplement on all babies born eight weeks premature.  It is live, friendly bacteria, similar to that found in some yoghurts.

In this case, doctors sourced the purest probiotic they could find, finding the best one from Switzerland.  It is mixed with breast milk and given to the babies through a feeding tube.

Dr Deshpande says there is good evidence to show that probiotics improve gut integrity.

"They also reduce the inflammation in the gut as well, so it's very well documented and that's why we chose probiotics for little pre-term babies here," he said.  "Probiotics are quite helpful in preventing this serious and deadly condition."

Fourteen-month-old Madison Parsey was the first Australian baby to have the probiotic.

Her dad Scott says it was an easy decision to take part in the study.  "We came to the conclusion that the benefits far outweighed any negatives," he said.  "She hasn't taken a backward step since.

"She tolerated the treatment well. She is now healthy and not showing any signs of health problems."

An early trial showed the treatment reduced the incidence of bowel disease by 50 per cent.

And when probiotics were given to all the premature babies in the nursery, the effect was even greater.  In the last year, no babies given the probiotic at Nepean Hospital have developed the bowel condition.  All very premature babies at hospitals like Nepean now get the supplement as a matter of course.

Doctors say another advantage of the treatment is the cost.  It can cost around $250,000 to treat a child who gets the disease, while a course of the probiotic is as little as $75.

With the success of the probiotic supplement, the treatment is being rolled out to hospitals in Australia and New Zealand.


Another reason to go to work on an egg - it could lower your blood pressure

No human trials yet  -- but the "rehabilitation" of eggs is amusing.  They were demonized only a few years ago

Egg whites could lower blood pressure in the same way as medication, new research has found.  A key component found in the whites was found to have the same blood pressure lowering properties as Captopril, a high blood-pressure drug.

Dr Zhipeng Yu, who led the research at China's Jilin University, said: 'Our research suggests that there may be another reason to call it 'the incredible, edible egg'.

'We have evidence from the laboratory that a substance in egg white - it's a peptide, one of the building blocks of proteins - reduces blood pressure about as much as a low dose of Captopril, a high-blood-pressure drug.'

Dr Yu and his colleagues studied a peptide found in egg white called RVPSL. This has a powerful ability to inhibit or block the action of ACE, a substance produced in the body that raises blood pressure.

Experiments with rats showed RVPSL had no toxic effects and lowered the blood pressure.

The findings were presented to the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in New Orleans.

Dr Yu said: 'Our results support and enhance previous findings on this topic.

'They were promising enough to move ahead with further research on the effects of the egg white peptide on human health.'

In 2009, scientists at the University of Alberta in Canada found that eggs produce proteins that mimic the action of powerful blood pressure-lowering drugs.

They too found that eggs may lower blood pressure in the same way as Ace inhibitors.

The drugs lower blood pressure by stopping the hormone angiotensin narrowing the body's blood vessels.

The researchers found that when eggs come in contact with stomach enzymes, they produce a protein that acts in the same way.


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