Probiotics have become a household term, largely thanks to the marketing efforts of big brands like Yakult and Actimel, which are credited with creating the category. But behind the consumer brands, considerable research has been going on into the specific health benefits of probiotics. Given that Bifidobacteria are present in human breast milk, it follows that paediatric health has been one of the foci of this research. The symposium, which took place as a satellite around the meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics in San Francisco last week, was entitled Probiotics in pediatrics: Modulating gut immunity and enhancing long-term health. Allan Walker, MD, a Conrad Taff professor of nutrition at Harvard, the role of intestinal microflora, colonisation in early childhood, and immunity. He said that measures intended to improve public health, such as food pasteurisation and sterilisation and use of antibiotics means that there is a decreased exposure to micoorganisms - leading to a gap in colonisation and weaker defences against disease. The idea is that probiotics could act as surrogate colonisers in such cases. Martin Martin, MD, a paediatrics professor at David Geffen University in Los Angeles (University of California) drew attention to the rise in allergies and autoimmune diseases in children, and said that studying the role of microflora is crucial in efforts to combat this trend. Dr Martin's main topic was the introduction of probiotics in infant nutrition - something that is very much on the radar for formula manufacturers, as they seek to replicate the natural make-up of human milk. The matter of which strains are best was covered by Erika Isolauri, MD of the University of Turku, Finland. She said that the emphasis for paediatrics should be on several specific strains - in particular Bifidobacterium species, that have shown promise in alleviating gastrointestinal infections in children and diarrhoea brought on by use of antibiotics. Recent research that Nutraingredients.com has reported on include an animal study published in open access journal BMC Microbiology (27 September 2007, 7:86. doi:10.1186/1471-2180-7-86) which concluded that supplements of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG probiotic bacteria may provide added protection against gastro-intestinal infection and diarrhoea in infants. It showed that 59 per cent of animal subjects did not develop rotaviral diarrhoea when the probiotic was administered before infection with rotavirus. This study was conducted at Sweden's Karolinska Institutet and the University of Linköpingin, with the collaboration of scientists at the Nestle Research Center. A meta-analysis published in The Lancet in may (Volume 369, Issue 9573, Pages 1614-1620) said that the risk of necrotising enterocolitis, one of the most common gastrointestinal problems in premature babies, may be cut by 74 per cent by probiotic supplementation, suggests a meta-analysis from Australia. This looked at studies involving a variety of different probiotics and a total of 1393 premature infants. In addition to a reduced risk of necrotising enterocolitis, they also observed a 53 per cent reduction in the risk of mortality. In 2005, a study using BioGaia's Reuteri bacteria in drop form reported positive results on the reduction of the symptoms of colic in breast-feeding infants. After a month of drop use, parents reported significantly less screaming in their children. Nestle's funding of the symposium is also interesting, since in March it signed an agreement with BLIS Technologies to investigate the use of probiotics to combat upper respiratory tract infections in infants, for which there is said to be no effective prevention at present. Moreover, probiotics for children is not just a matter of research - the industry has already made inroads into the area. For instance, Danisco recently unveiled a new probiotic formulation called Howaru Protect, which is aimed at reducing cold and flu symptoms in children under five. In an interview with NutraIngredients.com at FIE last week president of Danisco Cultures Fabienne Saadane-Oaks underscored the potential of the probiotics category, saying that once the issue of strain stability has been totally solves there are potentially no applications to which they may not be added. Moreover, DSM yesterday announced that it is backing the category by investing in US probiotics firm Ganeden. "We think that Geneden Biotech's BC30 strains have unique properties which could enable many new probiotic applications in both food and feed, that we want to follow closely as an area of potential future business for DSM," said Krijn Rietveld, senior VP new business development at DSM Nutritional Products.