Premature babies often have lasting lung problems, but hopefully that won’t always be the case. Researchers are working on bigger and better treatments- and there’s some good news!
Currently, mothers of premature babies often receive steroid injections before delivery to help the baby’s lungs develop. After the baby’s birth, surfactant can also be administered to coat the lungs and facilitate oxygen exchange. And while these treatments have saved the lives of many babies and are incredible medical advances, researchers are working on bigger and better ideas.
By using stems cells and regenerative medicine, researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario are developing techniques that could safely repair damaged lungs of premature infants! They’re using stem cells that make blood vessels, and in addition to providing hope to parents of preemies, this could also potentially help in the treatment of chronic lung diseases in adults. Research in animals has shown promising results, and clinical trials could start in just a few years. Read more about it here:
For parents of premature babies, the most obvious roadblock would seem to be problems with lung function. But a devastating stomach condition called necrotizing enterocolitis, which causes tissue death in the intestine, can affect preemies at about 2 weeks of age and has a mortality rate of about 30%! Necrotizing enterocolitis happens more commonly in formula-fed babies than in breast-fed babies. But recently, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh at UPMC have discovered that adding sodium nitrate (naturally occurring in high levels in breast milk) to formula fed to premature mice lowers the incidence of developing this condition. Sodium nitrate helps to correct blood flow issues that are common in preemies due to higher amounts of specific proteins that cause decreased blood flow and tissue death. This could be a major breakthrough in helping to reduce the risks to premature babies all over the world. Just another example of mice helping to save lives… and precious ones, at that!