Early nutrition in extremely preterm babies

Does early nutrition in extremely preterm babies improve neurodevelopmental outcomes in early childhood? ProVIDe follow-up.

Professor Frank Bloomfield and Ms Barbara Cormack
University of Auckland 

What is the problem and who does it affect?

Roughly 500 babies are born preterm (before 37 weeks’ gestation) each year in New Zealand. Where once their likelihood of survival was low, due to advances in medical care in recent years, many of these extremely premature babies are surviving.

One of the fundamental issues with a preterm baby is that he or she misses much of the critical development and growth which occurs in utero. Medical teams do their best to replicate the womb environment, but they can only do so much.  Often it is the brain that is most effected, leading to neurodevelopmental delay and cognitive deficits in childhood. These issues can persist into adolescence and adulthood.


What is this research project hoping to achieve?

In 2014, Professor Frank Bloomfield, head of the Liggins Institute at University of Auckland, received a grant from Cure Kids to carry out a study that would trial a nutritional intervention in extremely low birthweight babies (ELBW) in hope of improving long term health outcomes.

The team calculated that in order to see an effect, they would need to recruit 430 children to be randomly divided into two trial arms; treatment and placebo.

The 215 randomly allocated to the treatment arm received a nutritional intervention for the first 5 days after birth. The other 215 received standard nutritional treatment.

They hypothesised that those babies in the treatment group would have improved neurodevelopmental outcomes at 2 years age. This current grant is to follow up all the babies from the initial study, to assess the effectiveness of the nutritional intervention and determine if there is a measurable improvement in neurodevelopmental outcomes.

The larger-scale implications for this research could be far reaching. If it can be shown that this inexpensive and simple intervention can improve outcomes for these preterm babies, then this would provide strong evidence for it becoming best practice.