Worldwide, prematurity is the leading cause of death for all infants, with almost one million deaths per year. Babies born before 32 weeks face the worst odds. These babies are only 2% of births, but they account for over 1/3 of all infant deaths. For these infants, a disease called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) can be one of the most deadly complications of prematurity after the first week of life. NEC is an acquired condition in which intestinal tissue suddenly becomes inflamed and then begins to die off. NEC has a high mortality rate, and, even if the baby survives NEC, they are subject to considerable life-long health problems, resulting in tremendous costs to the health care system. With rising rates of prematurity, NEC poses a significant health and financial burden on Canada.
Dr. Ryan's research will employ approaches from biochemistry, microbiology, and chemistry to identify the factors produced by beneficial bacteria found in the infant microbiome that protect against NEC. This work will provide essential information for the development of novel therapeutics and preventatives for this costly disease.
Dr. Ryan will also collaborate with the Centre for Drug Research and Development to investigate molecules identified potential new drug leads, and researchers at the Child & Family Research Institute at the BC Children's Hospital to further investigate the role of the microbiome in infant health.