Infection and immunity researchers at Melbourne’s Murdoch Children's Research Institute are investigating whether probiotics could reduce the risk of eczema in premature babies and have a healthy effect on their immune systems.
The researchers, led by Professor Suzanne Garland, are part of the largest published trial of probiotics in vulnerable premature babies, ProPrems.
The results of this study, published in 2013, showed that giving pre term infants probiotics shortly after birth could prevent the devastating gastrointestinal disease, necrotising enterocolitis.
The randomised control trial, which involved giving probiotics to 1099 babies born before 32 weeks’ gestation, showed a 54 per cent absolute reduction in the incidence of necrotising enterocolitis.
The results have had a huge impact on how premature babies are cared for in Australia, with the practice of administering probiotics to premmies implemented in neonatal intensive care units throughout the country. The researchers will now study the effect of probiotics on the development of micro organisms in the infant gastrointestinal environment. They will also investigate whether giving probiotic supplements to premature babies can reduce the risk of eczema.
Eczema, a chronic inflammatory condition of the skin with no known cure, affects one in three Australian infants in their first year of life. Babies who develop eczema have an 80 per cent risk of developing a food allergy and are nine times more likely to develop atopic asthma later in life.
Of the 1099 babies in the original study, 286 were followed up at the age of one with a clinical allergy assessment to determine the prevalence and severity of eczema in those with and without probiotics.
Find out more about Prof Garland's work: