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research in brief

PROVING THE PROMISE OF PROBIOTICS

RESEARCHER

Dr. Lisa Hanson

Professor, Nursing

The pursuit of a less-invasive remedy for a common but concerning infection in pregnant women.

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Dr. Lisa Hanson knew years ago that she had found a promising area of research: suspecting the use of probiotics in pregnant women could reduce the occurrence of strep B infections that can harm their babies. But what Hanson, a professor in the College of Nursing and director of the university’s nurse-midwifery program, hadn’t expected was the long, challenging — yet fulfilling — road to proving her case scientifically. Routine prenatal screening of pregnant women has reduced potentially serious group B strep infections, or GBS, in newborns. When a pregnant woman tests positive for GBS, she receives multiple doses of intravenous antibiotics during labor. With her colleague, associate professor emerita of nursing Dr. Leona VandeVusse, a fellow certified nurse-midwife, Hanson wanted to take antibiotics out of the equation, or at least reduce the need for them. That led to a small pilot study that found that women receiving probiotic therapy showed significantly reduced colonization with GBS compared with a control group. The findings — published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing in 2014 — earned them the best article award from the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses.

marquette university discover 2016

Verifying these findings requires a large externally funded, randomized controlled clinical trial. But after submitting an application for NIH funding, and having it judged “fundable,” Hanson learned of a hitch. Because the federal government maintained Hanson’s team was proposing a pharmaceutical use of this common probiotic supplement, the two needed to submit an Investigational New Drug Application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before reapplying for the grant. Hanson describes this nine-month process as intense and rigorous but fascinating. With the FDA process completed and approved, they are preparing a new application for an NIH Research Grant (R01). When those expected funds are approved, Hanson and her colleague will study the probiotic Florajen3. This commercially available product contains a combination of freeze-dried live probiotic cultures and is similar to activeculture yogurt but in higher amounts. The probiotics are thought to encourage more “good” bacteria in vaginal flora, creating less opportunity for GBS to take hold. Says Hanson: “A real goal of ours is to reduce the need for antibiotics with potentially harmful side effects for the mother and baby. More probiotics and fewer antibiotics could help improve health.” ANN CHRISTENSON

Discover Magazine 2016