Scientists discover protein that could predict deadly disease in infants

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A simple test to help doctors catch a devastating disease that kills half of all infants who develop it early may soon be on the way, a new study suggests. 

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) kills about 500 babies - the vast majority premature - every year in the US. Often, by the time babies are diagnosed, the disease is so progressed that infants may have only days or hours to live. 

An earlier diagnosis could be the difference between life and death for these babies. 

Researchers at Louisiana State University (LSU) have identified a protein that can be found in babies' stool samples and predicts the development of NEC with up to 97 percent accuracy - perhaps even before the symptoms set in. 

X-rays like this one are currently used to diagnose necrotizing entercolitis, but they're only about 44% accurate at catching a disease that kills premature infants within hours or days. A new study suggests a diagnostic test for a protein could predict the disease before it starts

X-rays like this one are currently used to diagnose necrotizing entercolitis, but they're only about 44% accurate at catching a disease that kills premature infants within hours or days. A new study suggests a diagnostic test for a protein could predict the disease before it starts 

NEC is a leading cause of infant death in the US, claiming the lives of more babies than the flu, allergies, car accidents, choking, and crib accidents combined, according to he NEC Society. 

Although there is a form of the disease that affects full-term infants, that variety is milder, whereas the disease is severe and often deadly for premature babies. 

It isn't clear what exactly causes NEC, but we do know that it begins with inflammation in the large or small intestine, which allows bacteria to invade the intestines and colon, killing the tissue and potentially spilling out beyond the organs.

It's hard to catch - babies with NEC tend to appear simply fussy, and not feed well, but these are fairly commonplace symptoms or behaviors in premature babies. 

The disease moves so fast that by the time parents and doctors recognize it, it may be past the point of no return for

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