Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) remains a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in premature neonates. Despite decades of investigation, treating clinicians are still not able to determine which premature infants are at greatest risk of developing NEC and which of the affected infants will develop severe NEC requiring operation. A biomarker is a specific molecular indicator that can be used to identify or measure the progress of a disease. Many potential biomarkers have been studied for their potential relevance to NEC. Those showing promise include C-reactive protein, intestinal fatty acid-binding protein, platelet-activating factor and many others. None to date have achieved sufficient predictive value to be clinically useful. Distinguishing between the specific changes in NEC and the non-specific inflammation of sepsis has proven challenging. Urine is a particularly attractive site for potential biomarkers. It can be collected readily and non-invasively, and it is a rich source of both proteins and peptides. Preliminary work has revealed some promising biomarkers of NEC in urine. Combined with clinical data, they have been shown to be highly predictive in small series of patients. Advances in high-throughput molecular analysis have opened the door to finding biomarkers that may meaningfully improve the outcome of infants at risk for NEC.
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