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UC Davis Medicine Logo
The institution's principal publication for alumni, friends and physicians.
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  F E A T U R E S  
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  A Cool Treatment For The Youngest Patients
  Helping Premature Infants Thrive
 
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FEATURES
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NURTURING YOUNG MINDS AND BODIES

Physician-researchers are pursuing new avenues to help children who face special challenges to grow and develop into healthy adults.


Helping Premature Infants Thrive

 "" PHOTO — ADHD is the most common psychiatric
disorder in childhood, affecting 3 percent to 5 percent of school-aged children in the U.S. ADHD researcher Julie Schweitzer heads up a team that is trying to tease out exactly what makes children with ADHD different.
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UC Davis neonatologist Mark Underwood is searching for ways to prevent a potentially deadly intestinal disease called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) from occurring. The disease often strikes babies born too early.

"For premature infants, necrotizing enterocolitis is a common, devastating condition, and we have very limited options for treating it," says Underwood, assistant clinical professor of neonatology.

Cause unknown

No one knows what exactly causes NEC, though physicians believe the intestine's inflammatory response is triggered by an imbalance in gut bacteria. So, Underwood has designed a clinical trial aimed at creating that healthy bacterial balance. The trial will determine the best mixture of pre- and probiotic supplements to give to premature infants to prevent NEC.

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria found in various foods. Common strains include the Lactobacillis and Bifidobacterium families of bacteria. Prebiotics are nondigestible foods that make their way through the digestive system and help good bacteria grow and flourish.

Breastfeeding helps

Underwood recommends that mothers of premature infants breastfeed (or pump their milk for NICU staff use to feed the babies). Studies have shown that pre-term infants are less likely to develop NEC and the life-threatening intestinal perforations associated with it if they have previously been fed breast milk.

UC Davis offers a state-of-the-art Level III neonatal intensive care unit staffed by neonatologists 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The design, which won an award from Modern Healthcare magazine, features provisions for parents and family members, including lockers, rocking chairs and access to a sleep room and family waiting space. Other family-friendly design features include the warm colors and etched-glass imagery, in  which the doors of each room feature newborn and grown versions of koalas, zebras, giraffes and other animals  – personalizing each area and serving as a guide to visitors. Funding of the NICU was provided through California's Children's Hospital Bond Act of 2004, which voters approved as part of Proposition 61. Modern Healthcare magazine

"When we are talking life or death, even a few percentage points matter," Underwood says.

Still, breast milk does not completely prevent NEC from developing in the first place.

That may be, Underwood says, because mother's milk is designed for term babies and may not have the healthiest percentage of prebiotics to support growth of healthy bacteria in pre-term babies' intestines prone to developing NEC.

"It would be wonderful to be able to find a way to prevent this debilitating disease in infants and we believe that pre- and probiotics are a safe and effective way to do that."

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  "It would be wonderful to be able to find a way to prevent this debilitating disease in infants and we believe that pre- and probiotics are a safe and  effective way to do that." — Mark Underwood Assistant Clinical Professor of Neonatology  
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