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IIT-Bombay team finds bacteria responsible for neonatal deaths

The study, headed by Anirban Banerjee, microbiologist from IIT-B, has found that the bacteria itself need not be physically present in the womb to cause the damage.

Written by Priyanka Sahoo | Mumbai |
September 7, 2016 2:16:33 am
iit, iit bombay, neonatal deaths, pregnancy, pregnancy risks, pregnancy research, iit bombay research While bacterial infections have been commonly associated with increased risk of preterm delivery and neonatal death, no traces of bacteria had been found in the womb before this. (Source: File)

A TEAM of microbiologists from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B), has found that a naturally occurring bacteria in women’s genital tracts can produce toxins that move up to the womb and cause neonatal deaths and preterm births.

While bacterial infections have been commonly associated with increased risk of preterm delivery and neonatal death, no traces of bacteria had been found in the womb before this.

The study, headed by Anirban Banerjee, microbiologist from IIT-B, has found that the bacteria itself need not be physically present in the womb to cause the damage. BARC and National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health (NIRRH) also collaborated in the study.

According to Banerjee, group B Streptococcus (GBS), an otherwise harmless bacteria found in the genitourinary tract of some women, produces toxins that can reach the womb and damage tissues.

“The bacteria produces small balloon-like structures called vesicles that can move up to the womb. These vesicles are filled with toxins and digestive enzymes that damage the tissues,” said Manalee Surve, who was among the four PhD students of IIT-B involved in the study.

“To identify the type of toxins and proteins found in the vesicles, we sought the help of BARC. NIRRH helped us with our experiments with mice,” said Anjali Anil, a PhD scholar involved in the study.

Banerjee said that intrauterine infections are one of the main reasons for preterm births and the team set out to find out how bacteria could cause infection without being physically present. “We theorised that the bacteria could grow stems and pass on infections to the womb,” he said. The team then grew the bacteria in the lab to confirm its theory.

“When studied under an electron microscope, vesicles were seen budding off the bacterial cell,” said Banerjee who said the biggest breakthrough was when they found the vesicles were filled with toxins. The findings of the study were published as this week’s featured article in scientific journal PLOS Pathogens.

Banerjee said the discovery will give direction to global research on ways to avoid preterm births and neonatal deaths. “Now that it is known how the bacteria functions, we can work on treatments,” said Banerjee, adding that preterm birth was the leading cause of neonatal mortality worldwide. Preterm birth increases the risk of neonatal infections and survivors of preterm birth are at an increased risk of neurodevelopmental impairments, respiratory and gastrointestinal complications.

“According to our study, anti-biotics may not be the best way to treat infections in premature babies,” said Banerjee. The team is now working on the effect of the bacteria on the foetus.

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