Breath is essential to life.
Chemical engineers at the University of California, Santa Barbara are working to characterize and refine a special substance that is especially important to babies born prematurely: it allows them to breathe.
Worth more than all the gold in the world to these premature babies and their families, it's a miraculous lifesaver.
Without it many thousands more babies would die each year -- before ever leaving the neonatal intensive care unit. Some adults with lung disease are helped by it as well.
Called lung surfactant, this very special substance -- a mixture of lipids and proteins -- coats the inside of all mammalian lungs and allows them to draw breath, by reducing the work of breathing.
In the U.S., 40,000 premature babies per year are born without enough lung surfactant, and thousands of deaths result. The typical preemie has only 1/20 of the lung surfactant needed to breathe. Fortunately, additional lung surfactant can be administered.
For the past decade, doctors have been able to insert one of two types of lung surfactant directly into the babies' lungs. Both were approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1989, but each has its drawbacks.
"Our research program is directed at determining basic physical measures of an ideal replacement surfactant, and relating these measures to the components found in natural lung surfactants," said Joseph A. Zasadzinski, professor of chemical engineering and materials, who has been working on lung surfactant for many years with his research group. (See website http://www.chemengr.ucsb.edu/people/faculty/zasadzinski.html)
Graduate student Junqi Ding (See website
http://www.engineering.ucsb.edu/~junqi) will present the group's latest research
findings, funded by the Na
Contact: Gail Brown
University of California - Santa Barbara