A protein in breast milk has been found to a safe and efficient solution to reducing hospital-acquired infections among pre-mature babies in neonatal intensive care units, according to US researchers.
The study, published recently in the Journal of Pediatrics, followed a call from the American Academy of Pediatrics to cut infections rates in US neonatal ICUs.
“Our results show the safety of lactoferrin and provide an initial report of efficiency”
The researchers conducted a randomised control trial with premature infants weighing between 1lb 10oz (0.74kg) and 3lb 4oz (1.47kg) at birth.
Sixty of the infants were fed lactoferrin through a feeding tube twice a day for 28 days, while 60 additional infants were given a placebo.
The rate of hospital-acquired infections was 50% lower among the infants fed lactoferrin, said the researchers from the University of Missouri School of Medicine and Sinclair School of Nursing.
In addition, they used system that reports safety outcomes to the US Food and Drug Administration to evaluate the safety of lactoferrin during and after the infants received the protein.
Infants were checked for adverse effects from the protein six and 12 months after the trial ended. All adverse effects were found to be linked with complications from preterm birth and not lactoferrin.
Lead study author Professor Michael Sherman said: “The majority of diseases affecting newborn ‘preemies’ are hospital-acquired infections such as meningitis, pneumonia and urinary tract infections.
Breast milk protein ‘safely cuts pre-term infections’
“Not only did we find that lactoferrin, a protein found in breast milk, could reduce hospital infections among preemies, but we also measured the safety of feeding the protein to newborns,” he said.
“While a large-scale clinical trial is needed before lactoferrin becomes a standard treatment protocol in NICUs, our results show the safety of lactoferrin and provide an initial report of efficiency related to reducing hospital-acquired infections,” he added.
According to the study authors, lactoferrin can cost an estimated $25 to $500 (£20.80 to £401.60) per dose.
In contrast, a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that hospital-acquired infections cost the US $9.8bn (£7.8bn) to treat each year.
In a previous study, the same researchers found that lactoferrin helped protect premature infants from a type of staph infection known as staphylococcus epidermidis.