Steven Frese: Gut microbiomes in preterm infants

Steven Frese

Title

Gut Microbiomes in Preterm Infants

Mentor

Steven Frese, Ph.D.

Department

Nutrition

Bio sketch

Research in our group looks at how the gut microbiome, diet, and the host (that is, us) interact. Some bacteria have coevolved to live in the gut of humans, and these organisms are thought to play key roles in early life development, especially in shaping immune and metabolic development. These interactions, along with those we experience throughout life, are shaped by our diet and by the bacteria that colonize the gut and play an important role in both health and disease. By understanding these interactions, we aim to identify mechanisms that can be manipulated through dietary interventions such as fiber and prebiotics or probiotics.

Project overview

This project focuses on understanding how one key gut microbe colonizes the infant gut in early life. Complex sugars found in human milk (human milk oligosaccharides or HMOs) play an important role in shaping the community of newborn infants by selectively enriching for the growth of specific bacteria. Preterm infants are especially vulnerable to infections that originate in the gut microbiome early in life, and probiotics that can alter this community structure and reduce the risk of infection are increasingly seen as a strategy to reduce morbidity and mortality in this population.

Our laboratory is interested in understanding whether genetic differences among different strains of probiotic organisms alter their ability to influence preterm infant gut epithelial responses both generally and during exposure to pro-inflammatory compounds, such as those found in the gut of preterm infants. We will use a variety of molecular biology, microbiology, bioinformatic, and cell biology tools to determine whether these genetic differences alter the ability of these strains to protect preterm infants during their stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).