Action Medical Research

Protecting premature babies from deadly disease

Premature babies are particularly vulnerable to a deadly intestinal disease called necrotising enterocolitis (NEC). By studying certain components of breast milk, researchers aim to understand their role in protecting babies from serious illness - and help save tiny lives.

history Campaign has now closed

It ran from 12:00 PM, 1 December 2020 to 12:00 PM, 8 December 2020

Registered Charity in England and Wales (208701)

Check mark Match funded

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Championed by The Reed Foundation


  • Health/WellbeingHealth/Wellbeing
  • Medical ResearchMedical Research


  • Children (3-18)Children (3-18)
  • Infants (<2)Infants (<2)


United Kingdom


Each year around 10,000 babies are born extremely prematurely – before 32 weeks of pregnancy – in the UK. Despite huge advances in neonatal care, up to 4,000 babies, like little Jack born at just 25 weeks, will develop NEC and/or a life-threatening complication of infection (sepsis) after birth. Tragically, many of these babies will lose their lives due to these dangerous complications. Those who survive are often left with lifelong, life-changing disabilities.


Sepsis and NEC are thought to be linked to imbalances in the microbiome inside a baby's gut. Breast milk is known to reduce the risk of these deadly infections in premature babies, and evidence suggests this is due to immune-boosting factors rather than its nutrients. We're supporting Dr Darren Smith and his team at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle to investigate certain components of breast milk, known as phages, to understand their role in protecting babies from harm.

  • Nobody knows why I went into labour so early, at just 25 weeks and two days. I think it is so important that studies like this one funded by Action Medical Research are done. Without research, we wouldn’t have medical advances, and Jack probably wouldn’t be here.

    — says Jack's mum, Jenny

  • Jack became desperately ill with NEC at just six days old. He was so small and so sick that it took specialist staff four hours to stabilise him for the transport incubator. We arrived at midnight. Fortunately, a highly experienced surgeon was on call, but it was the most traumatic thing.

    — Thankfully, Jack survived