Sugars in breast milk may aid in the prevention of infections in neonates

New York:  Researchers discovered that sugars in breast milk can help prevent Group B Streptococcus (GBS) infections in human cells and tissues as well as animals.

GBS bacteria are a prevalent cause of blood infections, meningitis, and neonatal stillbirth. Although antibiotics can often be used to treat or prevent GBS infections, the bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant.

Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), or short strings of sugar molecules common in breast milk, may be able to substitute antibiotics in the treatment of illnesses in newborns and adults, according to researchers at Vanderbilt University in the United States.

“Previously, our lab demonstrated that combinations of HMOs extracted from the milk of multiple different donor mothers have anti-microbial and anti-biofilm activity against GBS,” said Rebecca Moore, a graduate student at the university.

“We wanted to jump from these in-vitro investigations to investigate if HMOs could protect infections in pregnant woman and mouse cells and tissues,” she added.

The researchers investigated the impact of many mothers’ combined HMOs on GBS infection of placental immune cells (called macrophages) and the gestational membrane (the sac surrounding the fetus).

“We discovered that HMOs could fully block bacterial growth in both macrophages and membranes, so we quickly went to looking at a mouse model,” Moore explained.

They wanted to see if HMOs could keep a GBS infection from propagating through pregnant mice’s reproductive systems. “We saw considerably lower GBS infection with HMO treatment in five distinct areas of the reproductive tract,” Moore added.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 2,000 babies in the United States with GBS each year, with 4-6 percent dying as a result. During labor and delivery, microorganisms are frequently passed from mother to infant.

“When we learned that HMOs could completely inhibit bacterial growth in both macrophages and membranes, we immediately looked at a mouse model,” Moore added.

They sought to see if HMOs could prevent a GBS infection from spreading through the reproductive system of pregnant mice. “With HMO treatment, we saw significantly decreased GBS infection in five unique locations of the reproductive tract,” Moore added.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that about 2,000 babies in the United States are infected with GBS each year, with 4-6 percent dying as a result. Microorganisms are routinely transmitted from mother to infant during labour and delivery.

 

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