More than 50 percent of premature babies who weigh less than 2 pounds at birth will suffer from medium- or long-term lung problems, according to Dr. Richard Martin, chief of neonatology at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.
After a number of newborn animal studies indicated that nitric oxide was important to proper lung development, Martin helped lead a clinical trial of nearly 600 human babies across multiple medical centers. Published last July in the New England Journal of Medicine, the results dem-onstrate that delivering nitric oxide to the lungs of premature, very-low-birth-weight babies during their second week of life improves their chances of surviving without chronic lung disease. The ba-bies inhale the substance continually for three weeks through either a respirator or a nasal device.
The new treatment is now being administered clinically on a selective basis. However, Martin and the rest of the Chronic Lung Disease Study Group are testing the long-range benefit of the treatment, such as preventing later development of disorders like asthma, before it can be incorporated into widespread clinical practice.
Since many of the study patients are only 2 or 3 years old, and the long-term testing cannot be performed until they reach the age of 5 or 6, Martin expects that it will take at least two to four years until the team can publish data to confirm the long-range benefits.