Premature babies are often born lacking the friendly gut bacteria that is vital for long-term health. Dr Lindsay Hall is carrying out ground-breaking research to understand what these babies are lacking and how it can be restored.
How could you break new ground?
Dr Lindsay Hall, Senior Lecturer on our Medicine degree course and Research Leader, is studying the link between the gut microbiome – the population of friendly bacteria found in the gut – and the development of potentially life-threatening illnesses.
Her work focuses on the bacteria in our gut: we have wonderfully complex bacterial communities but our gut is sterile when we are born. Dr Hall is trying to discover how bacteria get there and how they help us.
She has already recruited 70+ babies from the NNUH neonatal intensive care unit for a longitudinal study of their gut flora. Most babies in the unit are highly susceptible to infections, so they are given probiotic supplements and often antibiotics. Tracking the development of their gut bacteria should offer insights into how their immune system is affected
The ultimate aim of the study is to identify therapies to replace the essential good bacteria potentially lost in premature babies, increasing their chances of survival and good health throughout their lives.
Dr Hall said: “Premature babies are often born by Caesarean Section, given lots of antibiotics at birth and placed in sterile incubators – all of which can influence the colonisation of friendly bacteria, and as a result impact on their health both while in hospital and in later life. By comparing the gut bacteria of these babies to full term infants, we can identify important differences.”
In the long term we want to influence a change in how babies are treated across the country in NICUs and delivery suites,” said Dr Hall. “If we can figure out what crucial bacteria is missing we can look at creating therapies and lead to a step change in clinical guidelines, and that impacts on broad patient health in short and long term as well.”