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'Gatorade' for Preemies

Fortified Fluid May Keep Newborns' Gut Working Until Feeding Can Start
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WebMD Health News

Nov. 15, 2002 -- A bland liquid filled with growth factors may help keep premature babies alive. A new study shows that the artificial amniotic fluid is safe and ready for more tests.

Unborn babies don't just float in the fluid that fills the womb -- they constantly drink it. This amniotic fluid is full of growth factors that keep the gut working. After birth, the baby's gut continues to develop on a diet of mother's milk and/or formula.

A big problem for premature babies is that they aren't ready to eat yet. They can be nourished by intravenous feeding -- but their stomachs and intestines don't develop normally. This makes it extra hard on them when it's time for them to breast- or bottle-feed. Lots of these children need surgery. Many die, says study co-author Darlene A. Calhoun, DO, now at the University of South Florida.

"Feeding these babies is a nightmare," Calhoun says in a news release. "We lose babies from problems with their gut as a result of feeding. It's a very complex process. Unfortunately, we still don't know a lot about it."

Now there's a new hope. Researchers at the University of Florida -- where Gatorade was invented -- have come up with an artificial amniotic fluid. Called Safe Start, the growth-factor-rich fluid is meant to keep a preterm baby's gut working until it's ready for food. A new study, published in the October issue of the Annals of Pharmacotherapy, shows that Safe Start is safe for premature babies. Study leader Robert D. Christensen, MD, is chairman of pediatrics at the USF College of Medicine.

"This is the first such solution that's been developed -- that's the exciting part," Christensen says in a news release. "Our hypothesis is that by providing [preterm babies] with simulated amniotic fluid, we prevent the intestinal [wasting] that otherwise would occur."

The researchers gave increasing doses of the fluid to 30 babies born nine to 15 weeks prematurely. The most any baby got in one day was about four teaspoons. Only three of the children were unable to take all 24 doses.

Because of the promising safety results, the researchers have applied for federal approval of large-scale studies to see whether Safe Start actually saves lives.

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