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premature infant
A major cause of death in babies born before 36 weeks gestation may be caused by a disruption in a process that enables the body to generate energy needed for cells to work properly, according to a Rutgers study.
In research published in the journal Development, scientists found a link between necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) – a major cause of death in babies born before 36 weeks gestation – and the disruption of a process known as mitochondrial metabolism, which generates the energy needed for cells in the body to work properly.“At this time we think the discovery that mitochondrial metabolism is a hallmark of mature intestinal development may provide a new way to screen and diagnose NEC before children are born, or at the time of their birth,” said Michael Verzi, assistant professor in the Department of Genetics in Rutgers University-New Brunswick’s School of Arts and Sciences and lead author of the study. “Early detection of NEC would give doctors a chance to head off the disease before it’s too late.”

There is no known cause for NEC which occurs in up to 10 percent of premature infants and is fatal 25 to 35 percent of the time. Babies with the disease – which results in a swollen belly, fever and constipation usually within two weeks of birth – are treated with intravenous fluids, antibiotics or surgery. While research indicates that the disease is much less common in babies who are fed breast milk, even infants treated successfully for NEC can have problems absorbing nutrients as they develop.

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