Detecting NEC Quickly Saves Preemies


NEW ORLEANS, La. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – There are almost 400,000 babies born prematurely each year in the United States – that’s one in 10 babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. The smaller they are, the more medical problems they can have, including one very dangerous complication. It is the second leading cause of death in preemie babies. Up to 40 percent of babies who get it will die from it. There is no test to detect it, that is, until now. Researchers are on the verge of a breakthrough that could end up saving the tiniest of babies.

Two-year-old David Branch III has come a long way! He was born at 23 weeks, weighing just one pound.

“I got to see him for a minute and off he went, straight to the NICU,” his mother, Kimberly Sterling recalls.

Not long after birth, something happened.

“Overnight, his stomach expanded. Imagine this one-pounder with a belly that looks like he swallowed a tangerine,” Kimberly adds.

An extended belly and blood in the baby’s stool are the most common signs of NEC, or necrotizing enterocolitis. Now, Professor of Genetics & Biochemistry at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine, Sunyoung Kim, PhD and her team have created “NECDetect.”

(Read Full Interview)

Kim says, “This test is really individualized for each infant in determining what’s happening with their gut.”

The best part – it’s non-invasive.

“We’re looking at the poop in their diaper. And so, that’s a direct read out of what’s happening in their gut,” Kim adds.

NECDetect’s goal is to prevent surgeries, like the one little Liani Marrero had when she was just five days old.

Her mother, Fabiola Marrero tells Ivanhoe, “The surgeon told me that he didn’t know if the intestines that he had left were viable or not.”

Thankfully, they did find healthy tissue, and now, three months later, little Liani is doing well.

NECDetect has been granted a breakthrough device designation by the FDA. Certainly a game changer for David, now two and fully recovered.

If NEC is not treated quickly, the lack of nutrients from not eating can cause growth problems, as well as neurodevelopment and behavioral problems. Kim believes that every preemie will one day be tested for NEC after birth. She believes if NEC is caught early enough, they could lower the complications by half, striving to avoid surgery and cut down on a lot of the long-term complications that come with it. Kim was granted a U.S. patent for her discovery, and now patent applications are pending in Canada, Europe, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, and China, proving this could be a worldwide game changer when it comes to saving preemies with NEC.

Contributors to this news report include: Marsha Lewis, Producer; Matt Goldschmidt, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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REPORT:        MB #5328

BACKGROUND: Necrotizing Enterocolitis, or NEC, is a serious medical condition that primarily affects premature infants, especially those born before 32 weeks of gestation. It is characterized by inflammation and necrosis, or death, of the tissue in the intestines, and it primarily occurs in the first few weeks of life. NEC affects one in 1,000 preemies, and it only affects one in 10,000 full-term babies. There are four types of NEC: classic, transfusion-associated, atypical, and term infant. Aside from being born premature, other risk factors for NEC are low birth weight (under 5.5 pounds), formula or tube feeding, and/or infections.


DIAGNOSING: Symptoms of NEC in preemies include, but aren’t limited to: abdominal pain and swelling, changes in heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and breathing, bloody stool, green or yellow vomit, refusing to eat, and lack of weight gain. The cause of NEC in preemies is still unknown, but doctors say that preemies have a weakened immune system, which makes them susceptible to the disease. Doctors can diagnose NEC with blood tests, fecal tests, and abdominal x-rays that include gas, or air bubbles, around the intestines.


NEW TECHNOLOGY: The LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine has developed a way to detect NEC in preemies earlier to jumpstart treatments – it’s called NECDetect. Sunyoung Kim, PhD, Professor of Genetics and Biochemistry, led the research. Professor Kim says, “This patent is an important milestone in protecting the commercial potential of molecular diagnostic tools in intensive care units. Necrotizing enterocolitis continues to be a devastating disease for preemie babies who require long hospital stays. This utility patent is attractive to diagnostic companies that already provide equipment to hospital pathology labs and for drug companies interested in tackling gut disease therapies.”



Sunyoung Kim

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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Sunyoung Kim, PhD, Professor of Genetics & Biochemistry

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