New research from scientists at an American university reveals that giving premature babies a synthetic form of lactoferrin -- a protein naturally present in breast milk -- can eliminate staphylococcus epidermidis, a staph infection that can be deadly in infants born prematurely.
Researchers from the University of Missouri, Columbia, USA, have identified the role of a protein, called lactoferrin, that protects preterm babies from a type of staph infection.
This antimicrobial protein occurs naturally in breast milk and helps the body absorb iron from food.
Babies born preterm don't get the full level of protective bacteria from their mothers to help fight dangerous infections. What's more, these vulnerable infants are often not able to be nursed and so don't receive lactoferrin from breast milk.
"Babies born with low levels of protective intestinal bacteria are at an increased risk of devastating and sometimes deadly infections," said Michael Sherman, M.D., the study's lead author.
The scientists studied the immune systems of 120 premature babies in neonatal intensive care units between July 2009 and January 2012.
Sixty of them were given a lactoferrin supplement via a feeding tube twice a day for 28 days. At the end of the study period, the researchers analyzed stool samples from the babies to identify the protein's role in the development of protective intestinal bacteria.
They found that harmful germs responsible for the colonization of staph infection were virtually eliminated in newborns who received lactoferrin.
Cost could be a factor in the development and use of lactoferrin treatment, as it can be priced at $25 to $500 per dose. However, "an infection can extend an infant's hospital stay by 10 to 14 days at a cost of $40,000 to $56,000," the study's authors said.
In conclusion, lactoferrin is a promising avenue of further research in the prevention of staph infections in preterm babies and as a means of bolstering their immune systems. However, at this stage, the scientists consider it too early to recommend lactoferrin as a standard treatment for babies born prematurely.
The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.