Changing the paradigm of defining, detecting, and diagnosing NEC: Perspectives on Bell's stages and biomarkers for NEC

Sheila M. Gephart, Phillip V. Gordon, Alexander H. Penn, Katherine E. Gregory, Jonathan R. Swanson, Akhil Maheshwari, Karl Sylvester

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


Better means to diagnose and define necrotizing enterocolitis are needed to guide clinical practice and research. Adequacy of Bell's staging system for clinical practice and clarity of cases used in NEC clinical datasets has been a topic of controversy for some time. This article provides reasons why a better global definition for NEC is needed and offers a simple alternative bedside definition for preterm NEC called the “Two out of Three” rule. Some argue that biomarkers may fill knowledge gaps and provide greater precision in defining relevant features of a clinical disease like NEC. NEC biomarkers include markers of inflammation, intestinal dysfunction, hematologic changes, and clinical features. Development and reporting of NEC biomarkers should be guided by the FDA's BEST Consensus resource, “Biomarkers, EndpointS, & other Tools” and consistently report metrics so that studies can be compared and results pooled. Current practice in the NICU would be enhanced by clinical tools that effectively inform the clinical team that a baby is at increasing risk of NEC. Ideally, these tools will incorporate both clinical information about the baby as well as molecular signals that are indicative of NEC. While meaningful biomarkers for NEC and clinical tools exist, translation into practice is mediocre.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-10
Number of pages8
JournalSeminars in Pediatric Surgery
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2018


  • Bell's stages
  • Biomarkers
  • Clinical definition
  • Clinical predictors
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis
  • Spontaneous intestinal perforation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Surgery


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