Early treatment prevents lasting breathing problems in some premature babies

For the first time in large, multicenter clinical studies, a therapy has been shown to significantly lower the risk of lung and brain damage in some very low birthweight premature infants. Results from two randomized clinical trials demonstrate that when given within the first few weeks of life, inhaled nitric oxide helps prevent chronic lung disease in some low birthweight premature infants. In addition, when used within 48 hours after birth, treatment appears to protect some premature newborns from brain injury.

Combined, the two new, independent studies involved nearly 1,400 very low birthweight premature infants treated at 37 medical centers. The studies represent the largest clinical research effort of inhaled nitric oxide therapy in premature infants, and they offer promising advances in the care of very small premature babies, who are at high risk for delayed growth, lasting problems with their breathing and brain development, and other complications. Other studies of therapies to prevent these potentially debilitating long-term complications have yielded conflicting results. Supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the studies' results are published in the July 27, 2006, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine in conjunction with a related editorial.

"Medical science has dramatically improved our ability to help very small and premature babies survive. But as the rate of premature births continues to rise, it is even more critical that we develop ways to prevent many of the complications related to prematurity so that these children can lead healthy, robust lives," NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., says.

In 2004, more than one-half million babies in the United States (about 12.5 percent) were born prematurely (less than 37 weeks of pregnancy) the highest number reported since comparable national data have been available, according to the Cente

Contact: NHLBI Communications Office
NIH/National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

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