Vitamin cocktail for low birth weight babies to boost immunity

BHU research team works on formulation that could boost immune system of newborns weighing less than 2.5 kg.

Published: 31st December 2017 08:22 AM  |   Last Updated: 31st December 2017 08:22 AM   |  A+A-

Image used for representational purpose.

VARANASI/BHOPAL: There’s good news for parents of low birth weight (LBW) babies. A protective shield of four key vitamins that promises to guard these babies against the onslaught of bacterial and other infections is in the pipeline.

Molecular and genetic scientists and researchers at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Asia’s biggest residential university, have developed a cocktail of four vitamins that could help streamline the compromised immune system of LBW babies (babies weighing less than 2.5 kg at birth) and enable them to neutralise attacks by bacteria and other pathogens.

The researchers led by Dr Geeta Rai, assistant professor in the department of molecular and human genetics, Institute of Science, BHU, have developed the cocktail and filed for a national patent for the vitamin-based formulation. The researchers are also in talks with premier pharmaceutical companies for licensing of the cocktail.

Baby Basics

  • Low birth weight (LBW) babies weigh less than 2.5 kg at birth

  • Over 20 million LBW babies are born annually in world, of which 40 per cent births are reported in India

  • 3.9 million infants die annually worldwide before four weeks, of which 1.2 million neo-nates die in India

The weakened immune system in LBW newborns can be attributed to a decreased number of circulating granulocytes -- neutrophils, monocytes, macrophages etc – that are the key components of the innate immune system.

The researchers, who have been working for a decade now on the LBW babies, focused on finding ways to protect the babies against life-threatening infections.

Under the guidance of Dr Rai, a young researcher, Doli Das, has identified that neutrophil extracellular trap formation (NET) or netosis is severely impaired in LBW babies compared to normal birth weight (NBW) babies.

NET formation is a novel antimicrobial defence mechanism of neutrophils, in which the DNA and some granular proteins splash out from the cells and form a spider-net like structure to trap and kill bacteria or other microbes.

Lab analysis based on cord blood samples of newborns has revealed that NET formation to neutralise attack by bacteria and other microbes is absent or negligible among LBW newborns as compared to NBW newborns, which can be a major reason for impaired immunity among LBW babies.

“After discovering the negligible presence or absence of NET formation among LBW newborns, we started working on finding ways to boost the NET formation among these babies. We first worked with each of the vitamins individually, then in different pairs and went up to a combination of six vitamins,” Dr Rai told The Sunday Standard.

However, the best results were delivered by a set of four vitamins, as the neutraceutical formulation developed using the cocktail showed significant potential in improving NET efficiency in LBW newborns’ neutrophils.

“The results have been very encouraging as the NET formation among LBW babies has enhanced to come at par with concurrent levels in NBW babies, thus promising a strong potential in guarding LBW newborns against bacterial and pathogen attacks, particularly in the crucial first four weeks of existence,” said Dr Rai.

The findings of the research on LBW babies have been published in scientific journals, including PLOS One and The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal.

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