Inhaled nitric oxide safe for tiny preemie lungs, UCSF study finds

A nationwide study led by researchers at UCSF provides evidence that inhaled nitric oxide is safe and effective for the prevention of the most common type of long-term lung disease of very premature infants.

Chronic lung disease is a major source of morbidity in these infants. Neonatologists have been trying to figure out how to prevent it for years, said Philip Ballard, MD, PhD, lead study author and professor of pediatrics at UCSF.

The benefit of inhaled nitric oxide for infants born close to term who suffer from the lung disease known as pulmonary hypertension has been known for some time, but the effect in preemies had not been clearly determined, according to Ballard.

Nitric oxide is a gaseous compound normally produced by the body, however, premature infants produce insufficient amounts. Recent clinical studies done elsewhere have found positive effects of inhaled nitric oxide in very premature infants, while some animal research has suggested that inhaled nitric oxide in preemies might interfere with the production of pulmonary surfactant, a substance critical to normal lung development and functioning.

The new study findings, reported in the August 2007 issue of Pediatrics, found no adverse affects of inhaled nitric oxide on surfactant production or function, said Ballard, a neonatologist at UCSF Childrens Hospital.

Inhaled nitric oxide is a promising therapy, but weve been concerned about safety. We found no adverse effects of inhaled nitric oxide and perhaps a beneficial effect in terms of surfactant function, Ballard said.

The lungs of very premature infants are underdeveloped, fragile and too weak to breathe independently. Mechanical ventilation with oxygen keeps these infants alive but often results in chronic lung disease, or bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), with severe inflammation and retarded development of the lungs.

BPD is the most common long-term lung disease in premature

Contact: Phyllis Brown
University of California - San Francisco

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