The study – published in BMC Pediatrics – examines the impact of routine supplementation with the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938 (ProTectis from BioGaia) on the rate of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in pre-term babies.
Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is the most common gastrointestinal cause of death and illness in premature infants, with an average death rate of around 20-30%.
Led by Peter Gal from Piedmont Neonatology, USA, the research team found prophylactic supplementation of the probiotic prevented necrotizing enterocolitis in around 12% of high risk premature infants.
“Prophylactic initiation of Lactobacillus reuteri as a probiotic for prevention of NEC resulted in statistically significant reduction in NEC,” said Gal and his team.
“Our results support that one NEC case is avoided for every eight cases given L. reuteri prophylaxis.”
The team explained that the benefits of supplementation were especially focused on a subset of infants born under 1000 grams: “These results suggest a significant benefit to L. reuteri prophylaxis in this subset of neonates.”
The authors note that the study was partially funded through a grant from BioGaia Inc, though the researchers declare they have no competing interests.
The study analysed data from 311 premature infants, born with a weight below 1000 grams.
“The groups are separated into those neonates born from January 2004 to June 30, 2009, before introduction of L. reuteri, and neonates born July 2009 through April 2011 who received routine L. reuteri prophylaxis,” explained the researchers.
Supplementation was found to result in a statistically significant reduction in NEC, with only 2.5% of infants given the probiotic suffering NEC, compared with 15.1% of those who did not receive the supplement, the authors revealed.
“It is very encouraging to see that Lactobacillus reuteri is reducing suffering and saving lives in neonates and that gives us reason for continued studies in this interesting and sensitive area,” added Peter Rothschild, chief executive officer, BioGaia.