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Study: Steroid may heal damaged lungs in newborns

Hydrocortisone corrected lung damage in mice with bronchopulmonary dysplasia after oxygen treatment after birth, researchers report.

By
Stephen Feller
Premature newborns require oxygen and the treatment can cause lung damage, though hydrocortisone may help, according to researchers at Northwestern University. Photo by OndroM/Shutterstock
Premature newborns require oxygen and the treatment can cause lung damage, though hydrocortisone may help, according to researchers at Northwestern University. Photo by OndroM/Shutterstock

CHICAGO, April 25 (UPI) -- Hydrocortisone may prevent bronchopulmonary dysplasia, or BPD, in premature newborns given oxygen treatments after birth, according to a recent study.

The steroid reduced damage in newborn mice with a rodent version of BPD, suggesting the chronic lung disease and heart failure of many babies born early could be avoided, researchers at Northwestern University report.

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Premature infants require oxygen to continue development after birth, but it can damage their lungs, reducing their ability to filter air. Over time, the damage causes blood vessels in the lungs to harden, which often leads to heart failure.

"Supplemental oxygen has been our standard treatment for critically ill preemies, and while needed, it's not without risk," Dr. Kathryn Farrow, a neonatologist at Lurie Children's Hospital and an associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University, said in a press release. "Our findings provide new insights and new possible pathways to mitigate or completely eliminate the damaging side effects of an otherwise lifesaving therapy."

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For the study, published in the journal Pediatric Research, the researchers put one group of mice in a chamber breathing high levels of oxygen, and another group in a chamber breathing normal air in the room. When mice breathing more oxygen started showing signs of BPD, they were treated with either hydrocortisone or a placebo.

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While mice receiving the placebo developed hypertension, hardened blood vessels and an enlarged heart, those who got the steroid had nearly normal hearts and blood vessels and no hypertension, despite also having BPD.

Although hydrocortisone prevented the conditions, too much of the steroid damaged the rodents' lungs, the researchers also found, suggesting a sweet spot if the steroid has a similar effect on humans with BPD.

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"Bronchopulmonary dysplasia is a devastating, often unavoidable side effect of a standard lifesaving therapy with oxygen used to treat newborn babies, so our findings are a promising indicator that a well-known drug that's been around for a long time may help stave off some of this condition's worst after-effects," said Dr. Marta Perez, an also assistant professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern.

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