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Nitric Oxide Doesn't Seem to Help Preemies' Lungs: Report

THURSDAY, July 22 (HealthDay News) -- In a new study that looked at the use of nitric oxide in premature infants, researchers found that lung function didn't improve in babies who were not black, although one expert said the treatment may help some infants.

Laboratory tests have suggested that nitric oxide may be able to help stimulate lung growth in premature newborns, who often can't breathe properly because their lungs aren't fully developed, explained Dr. Steven H. Abman, director of the Pediatric Heart Lung Center at University of Colorado School of Medicine and The Children's Hospital. Abman was not involved in the new study but is familiar with the findings.

Studies in babies haven't consistently shown that nitric oxide treatment helps babies as a whole, Abman noted. "The questions are whether we're giving too little nitric oxide, or if we're picking the wrong babies to treat," he said.

In the new study by Jean-Christophe Mercier, of the University of Paris, and an international research team, doctors gave either nitric oxide gas or a placebo to 800 preterm infants who were born between 24 weeks and just under 29 weeks of gestation. The babies had mild to moderate lung problems and were treated for seven to 21 days.

The nitric oxide treatment didn't appear to help the babies avoid future lung problems and brain damage, the researchers found. The results suggest that "such a preventive treatment strategy is unsuccessful," they wrote in the report, published online July 22 in The Lancet.

However, the treatment seemed to be somewhat effective in black babies, and other studies have shown they may be helped more than others, the study authors noted.

Abman suggested that the babies in the study may have been too healthy to need the treatment, and more research is needed.

Nitric oxide is found in mammals and should not be confused with nitrous oxide, or "laughing gas," which is used as an anesthetic.

More information

For more about premature babies, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCES: The Lancet, news release, July 22, 2010; Steven H. Abman, M.D., director, Pediatric Heart Lung Center, University of Colorado School of Medicine and The Children's Hospital, Denver

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