Development of Microbiome Modulation Strategies to Prevent and Treat Perinatal COVID-19

pregnant person with face mask

New reports support that pregnant women are at increased risk for severe disease and mortality due to SARS-CoV-2 and that fetuses and newborn infants can acquire the virus pre- or post-natally. The promise of a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 is even more distant in the future for pregnant women and neonates due to their altered immune responses. Gut microbes are important modulators of immunity/inflammation responses to viral infection and their role in the epidemiology and pathogenesis of COVID-19 is currently unknown.

Led by Cheryl Gale, MD, associate professor of pediatrics/neonatal-perinatal medicine, researchers in this study will test the hypothesis that promotion of healthy gut microbiomes could be a novel adjunctive or alternative therapy to decrease COVID-19 disease in this vulnerable cohort while awaiting vaccine development.

“Our long-term goal is to develop an adjunctive microbial-based intervention for mothers and infants that decreases the burden of COVID-19 disease," said Gale. “The first step is to define the relevant outcomes associated with perinatal COVID-19 and then to understand how known microbiome disrupters affect these outcomes. Results from this study will inform hypothesis generation regarding which interventions to pursue and support, such as probiotics, breastmilk feeding, or increased antibiotic stewardship, in follow-on clinical trials. Knowledge of background rates of adverse outcomes due to perinatal COVID-19 will also be critical in the future when assessing for adverse events after vaccination, in order to interpret the data for causality.”

This project is supported by the UMN Campus Public Health Officer's CO:VID (Collaborative Outcomes: Visionary Innovation & Discovery) grants program, which support University of Minnesota faculty to catalyze and energize small-scale research projects designed to address and mitigate the COVID-19 virus and its associated risks.