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Case Studies

The infant microbiome and health

Understanding the beneficial microbial communities in the earliest stages of life

The Biorepository supports collaborative research studying how supplementing premature babies' milk with probiotics improves health

Quadram Institute

Dr Lindsay Hall leads a research group in the Quadram Institute. Understanding the microbiome in the earliest stages of life is a key focus area for her research.

This resident community of trillions of microbes has emerged as a central player in human health and wellbeing. ‘First contact’ between microbes and their infant ‘host’ is a critical developmental window, when the foundations for lifelong health are established. Disturbing this fledgling microbial ecosystem has short and long-term consequences, including increased risk of allergies, chronic inflammatory disorders.

The BAMBI Study

As part of her research into the factors that modulate the infant microbiome Lindsay joined forces with the NNUH neonatal intensive care unit team. They set up the Baby-Associated MicroBiota of the Intestine (BAMBI) study. Their aim was to see if they could beneficially manipulate the microbiomes of preterm babies. The Biorepository supported the study by helping to obtain informed parental consent and developing protocols for sample collection and storage.

“The Biorepository made this project possible, using their standard consent forms to recruit families and their newborn babies” said Lindsay.

Babies born prematurely often have underdeveloped gut and immune systems, and may receive many different antibiotics to ward of serious infections. As a result, many preterms lack beneficial microbiota members like Bifidobacterium that are characteristic of healthy full-term babies.

The first published results have shown that boosting the milk of premature babies with healthy bacteria may have helped halve the number of serious gut problems and infections. The researchers are now looking to understand exactly how probiotic supplementation modulates the microbial community. The Biorepository is supporting this ongoing research.

“The Biorepository stores any extra samples we had, so other research groups might access these precious samples to do further critical translational work” said Lindsay.

Future diagnostics

The samples have been valuable in helping to develop new, more rapid ways of diagnosing infections in preterm babies. A team from the Quadram Institute and the Earlham Institute (EI) have shown that they can rapidly and reliably identify the microbes behind life-threatening infections. Modern next generation sequencing techniques and analysis software can identify microbes from their genome sequence in hours. The Biorepository provided samples from its stores for the researchers to test their method on.