Diapers` contents may help detect intestinal disease in kids

Washington: Life threatening intestinal problems in babies could soon be detected with the help of their diapers`` contents, say researchers.

This medical test, initially researched for aging adults, also could be helpful for premature babies, say scientists with Texas AgriLife Research.

Dr. Robert Chapkin and his colleagues developed this technique, which uses fecal samples rather than the dreaded colonoscopy.

Chapkin, a nutritional scientist, said: "Babies have many, many intestinal conditions that can threaten their lives, such as necrotizing enterocolitis, or NEC, in premature infants.

"Our test, we believe, may have utility for determining a baby``s risk, and then would allow a physician to take different strategies in order to abate or prevent the possibility of this life threatening disorder."

According to Chapkin, necrotizing enterocolitis can be fatal and it``s very difficult to determine which babies in the premature baby intensive care unit will develop the disease.

For the study, the scientists analysed the fecal samples of 20 healthy babies in collaborative research with clinicians at the University of Illinois-Urbana.

Just as in the original research, in which the researchers detected genetic fingerprints from adult stools as a predictor of colon cancer, the study with babies found that genetic markers in their stools could also give a picture of medical condition of an individual baby``s intestines.

The study used fecal samples from 10 human babies that were exclusively breast-fed and 10 human babies that were exclusively formula-fed, Chapkin stated.

He said: "I think that all doctors would agree that the breast is best. But why? What is in the breast milk? How does it affect developmental biology, why are infections and complications in the intestine lower in a breast-fed baby than a formula-fed baby?

"The only way to deal with that is to have a molecular signature of the intestinal cells from that baby and to follow it over time."

The team was able to identify genetic signatures from each baby, noninvasively, he said. In other words, each baby``s diaper was the source of the samples.

Chapkin said: "This may unlock a gold mine, allowing us to understand how that little baby``s intestine is changing and developing and whether or not that formula is meeting those needs.

"That would allow formula companies to further enrich their formulas with essential molecules so that the two worlds - breast milk and formula - look very similar at some point in time."

He added: "We have a long way to go to validate these markers, but we show it``s feasible, it can be done.

"We have genetic signatures that are different in these babies`` intestines."