There are many microorganisms that normally grow in the gut and keep us healthy. While babies are born with very few gut organisms, they pick them up early in life, usually by coming into contact with microorganisms from their mother and environment. This helps create the baby’s gut flora, which is comprised of different types of microorganisms. Our project brings together information collected from groups of babies in Canada (healthy full term and preterm infants), Germany and The Netherlands to determine if different birth experiences and exposures early in life change how the microorganisms in the gut develop after the birth and throughout infancy.
We think that if the baby grows a gut flora early in life that is different than usual it may stay that way into later life. Research has shown that people with conditions, such as obesity, allergies, eczema and diabetes, have a gut flora that is different than people without those conditions. It is possible that changes in the gut flora in the early days of life may impact the gut development and be associated with conditions like these later in childhood. For this reason, we are investigating information collected from Canadian and European babies to determine how the gut flora changes during the first years of life and what factors cause changes. We are most interested in how breastfeeding and the introduction of foods change the gut flora. The findings of this study will give us a better idea of what to tell parents about starting their babies on solid foods and about weaning from breast milk. We will also get information about how the gut flora could be changed in babies to help prevent allergies, eczema and obesity later in life. This information has the potential to change clinical practice in Europe and North America.
To date, we have brought researchers from Canada and Europe together for our first team symposium, held in 2017, to discuss project progress and preliminary results. Our team has collectively gathered data from over 1000 participants in the first 6 years of life and are actively continuing to complete data collection and analyses. Our team of researchers (which includes students and trainees) have given numerous local, national and international presentations, from which, have resulted in multiple awards for outstanding student presentations.