Johns Hopkins Makes NEC Breakthrough

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Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a devastating diagnosis, particularly as families of low birthweight and premature infants are already reeling from the unforeseen complications of an early or otherwise difficult birth. These families are often struggling to make sudden changes in their lives, as premature infants often require greater care than full-term children, and already planned adjustments suddenly need to be made immediately and weeks earlier than anticipated. Adding NEC onto these already difficult circumstances can be overwhelming.

Necrotizing enterocolitis occurs when a portion of the bowel dies, and is most common in premature infants, low birthweight infants, and infants who are ill. The disease is often fatal, resulting in death for one out of every four babies who receive a diagnosis of NEC. Even infants who survive are often left with long-term health complications.

NEC is also associated with brain injury, and researchers at Johns Hopkins believe they have discovered the cause of the injury, and might be close to determining a way to reverse it. The key to the discovery was reproducing the disease in mice by mimicking the circumstances most commonly associated with NEC, including:

  • Inducing premature labor
  • Feeding the baby mice with formula rather than allowing nursing
  • Introducing bacterial infections associated with NEC

Researchers then used a variety of imaging tests to compare brain activity of mice with infants who have suffered from NEC. Tests were also done to compare the immune cells of the brains of affected mice with similar cells in infants diagnosed with NEC. By doing so, researchers believe they determined gut inflammation as a cause of the brain injury seen in these children.

One thing made very clear by this study is that medical practitioners are well aware of the circumstances most likely to result in NEC, and doctors should be prepared to diagnose and treat quickly. If your child was diagnosed with NEC, and you believe a delayed diagnosis contributed to a diminished prognosis, please consult with an experienced attorney regarding your case.