The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is the body’s portal for digestion and nutrient absorption. It also plays a vital role in the development of adaptive immunity. Gastrointestinal physiology is closely linked with fetal development. Premature infants are uniquely susceptible to disturbances of the GI tract, some of which are life-threatening. Deepening our understanding of developmental gastroenterology is critical to improving outcomes in the NICU.
One of the most important areas of research within neonatology is the optimization of neonatal nutrition and feeding practices. Our patients come under our care at a critical stage in somatic growth and brain development. Clinical scientists at MANA are engaged in projects attempting to elucidate the diet which promotes an optimal rate of growth and body composition.
Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a relatively common, yet poorly understood inflammatory disease affecting the GI tract of premature infants. We are examining feeding practices which may reduce the likelihood of NEC and are attempting to identify components in breast milk which may play a role in its prevention.
Several studies are currently underway:
- Evaluation of Body Composition in Growing Preterm Infants: Utilizing sophisticated new technology, MANA investigators are studying the body composition of premature infants on a variety of nutritional regimens.
- Breast Milk and NEC: MANA scientists are attempting to identify the components of mother’s milk which may confer protection on the fragile, developing GI tract of preterm newborns.
- The Effects of Milk Processing on Key Protective Components: MANA clinicians and scientists are evaluating the effect of pasteurization, refrigerating and freezing on the integrity of important components of breast milk.