Growth factor in baby formula could reduce NEC, most devastating GI disease in preemies

San Diego (April 3, 2005) Could it be that the most widespread and devastating gastrointestinal disease affecting premature babies could be conquered simply by adding a common polypeptide, epidermal growth factor (EGF), to infant formula? And if so, exactly how does it work, and why?

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) affects some 10,000 infants annually in the U.S., and over 90% are formula-fed before onset of NEC. At greatest risk are small, premature infants, and infants fed concentrated formulas. Estimates of mortality vary widely, up to 40%. International rates of incidence and mortality are thought to be similar.

Although there is no effective treatment, the incidence of NEC among formula-fed babies is estimated at six to 10 times higher than breast-fed babies, indicating important direct benefits of mother's milk.

"Using a neonatal animal model of NEC, we have shown that when one protein found in breast milk epidermal growth factor (EGF) is added to formula, the incidence of NEC decreases by 50% compared to animals fed formula alone," Jessica A. Clark, the lead author in a research study at the Department of Pediatrics, University of Arizona, said.

"Under conditions designed to induce NEC in neonatal rats, we found that EGF treatment alters the balance of cell death and cell survival gene expression so that neonatal intestinal cells are able to survive, short-circuiting the usual NEC progression, and enabling normal intestinal growth," Clark added.

*Paper presentation: "Epidermal growth factor reduces intestinal apoptosis in an experimental model of necrotizing enterocolitis," 12:30 p.m.-3 p.m. Sunday April 3, Physiology 400.1/board #A865. On view 7:30 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Clark is presenting the research at the 35th Congress of the International Union of Physiological Sciences in San Diego, March 31 - April 5, 2005.

The complete team includes: Jessica A. Clark, Tara A. Saunders, Sarah M. Doelle, Hana


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