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New Studies Suggest Microorganisms in the Womb Set Stage for Childhood and Adulthood Diseases

Experts at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s review the potential influences of the developing infant microbiome in Birth Defects Research Part C EmbryoToday

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Researchers review importance of microorganisms that exist in the gut, suggesting perturbation of the environment during pregnancy, delivery and early infancy could impact the developing baby’s early microbiome and set the stage for health problems later in life. The term “microbiome” refers to the trillions of organisms we harbor, on our skin and within our respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts.

“The Microbiome and Childhood Diseases,” a special issue of the Birth Defects Research Part C EmbryoToday scientific journal released today, is a collection of ground breaking microbiota reviews. One particularly noteworthy finding pertains to the womb environment in which the baby develops.

“One of the reviews, by Koleva et al., discusses the studies that reveal that the womb is not sterile and that the microbiota of the child are already developing in utero,” explained Sharon Meropol, MD, PhD, Associate Director for Research and Evaluation at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital’s Center for Child Health and Policy. “This means that not only do we have to consider the microbiome of the child but also that of the mother, and the irony is that some of our modern medical practices, through their effect on these early microbiota, could have unintended consequences, interfering with normal development of children’s immune, metabolic, and neurologic systems.”

The special issue is particularly timely as Birth Defects Prevention Month prepares to kick off in January. According to Dr. Meropol, increasing evidence supports the importance of protecting key steps in the transfer and maintenance of the normal microbiota in pregnant mothers and fetuses.

“Disturbed microbiota could potentially contribute to a wide range of childhood diseases including allergies, asthma, obesity, and autism-like neurodevelopmental conditions,” said Dr. Meropol, who is also Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. “But recent studies suggest that traditional practices like vaginal births, skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth and breastfeeding may promote the development of the microbiome in the infant and help set the trajectory towards healthy development.”

UH Rainbow’s visionary physician researchers John Kennell, MD, and Lydia Furman, MD, were early proponents of vaginal delivery, and kangaroo care (skin to skin contact) and breastfeeding immediately following birth, advising more than a decade ago that these practices are associated with psychosocial, metabolic and immunologic benefits for full-term and premature infants. [Furman L, Kennell, J. Acta Paediatr. 2000;89:1280] Since then, compelling evidence has continued to mount that these practices are beneficial for intergenerational transfer of the microbiome from mother to infant.

Dr. Meropol and Amy Edwards, MD, pediatric infectious disease specialist at UH Rainbow, provide an overview of the potential influences of the developing infant microbiome from the clinical perspective in the special issue of Birth Defects Research Part C EmbryoToday.

“We have just scratched the surface in understanding how the internal universe of maternal, fetal and infant colonizing microbiota, interacting with genetic and environmental factors, can influence optimal child development,” says Dr. Meropol. “We are grateful to The Teratology Society for recognizing the importance of this research and shedding light on the evolving story of the microbiome.”

Birth Defects Research Part C EmbryoToday scientific journal, (Volume 150, Issue 4) will be released Monday, December 28, 2015. The DOI for the overview article is DOI: 10.1002/bdrc.21119.  

About University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital
Internationally renowned, UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital is a full-service children’s hospital and pediatric academic medical center with experts in 16 medical divisions and 11 surgical specialties who offer nationally ranked care not available at other institutions in the region, including a center dedicated to adolescent and young adult cancer treatment and Northeast Ohio’s only single-site provider of advanced maternal fetal medicine and neonatology services. As the primary pediatric affiliate of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and the only Level I Pediatric Trauma Center in the region, UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital offers access to novel therapies, advanced technologies and clinical discoveries long before they are available nationwide. Rainbow pediatric specialists – all of whom also serve on the faculty at the School of Medicine – are engaged in today’s most advanced clinical research and are widely regarded as the best in the nation – and in some specialties, the best in the world. Learn more at

About The Teratology Society

The Teratology Society, an international professional group of scientists hailed as the premier source for cutting-edge research and authoritative information related to birth defects and developmentally-mediated disorders, publishes Birth Defects Research. The Teratology Society is made up of nearly 700 members worldwide specializing in a variety of disciplines, including developmental biology and toxicology, reproduction and endocrinology, epidemiology, cell and molecular biology, nutritional biochemistry, and genetics as well as the clinical disciplines of prenatal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics, neonatology, medical genetics, and teratogen risk counseling. For more information visit