Thirty-four percent of the children who did not receive nitric oxide showed delayed brain development compared to only 16 percent of those who did receive nitric oxide.
Twelve percent of the oxygen-only patients had cerebral palsy compared to 9 percent of those who received nitric oxide. In the oxygen-only group, one child also suffered hearing loss and two children were blind.
"These findings are enormously rewarding," Schreiber said. "Despite everything we have tried in neonatology, no therapy has ever improved cognitive function. Babies born at 2 pounds have only a 50 percent chance at 2 years of age of being considered totally normal meaning no cerebral palsy and normal IQs. Our results showed that nitric oxide therapy significantly increases the percentage of developmentally normal babies."
If multi-center studies currently under way can confirm these findings, treatment with nitric oxide could become standard for about 30,000 children a year, or about one-half of all premature infants.
"Inhaled nitric oxide may significantly improve the quality of life of both the child and his or her family," the authors conclude, "and may decrease the societal burden of caring for these high-risk children."
The children who received nitric oxide showed improved brain development despite other factors that increase risk, such as low birth weight, male sex and low socioeconomic status.
"We really don't know yet exactly how nitric oxide helps the brain," said co-author Jeremy Marks, Ph.D., M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago. "Although we have shown in our laboratory that immature bra
Contact: Katie O'Boyle
University of Chicago Medical Center