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Early Nitric Oxide Treatment Can Help Low Birth Weight Preemies

Inhaled nitric oxide can significantly lower the risk of lung and brain damage in some very low birth weight premature infants// but children must be studied for several years to assess the long-term, protective benefits of the treatment on brain development.

A clinical trial led by John Kinsella, MD, a neonatologist with the Pediatric Heart Lung Center at The Children’s Hospital in Denver and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center’s School of Medicine, concluded that the use of inhaled nitric oxide shortly after birth appears to protect some premature newborns from brain injury. His trial and another, independent study led by a Philadelphia researcher also concluded that the treatment helps prevent chronic lung disease in some premature, low birth weight babies when given within the first two weeks of life. In the end, the treatment may lessen the need for oxygen therapy.

“Low-dose, inhaled nitric oxide reduced the risk of brain injury in premature newborns who required mechanical ventilation after birth, when given in the first 48 hours after birth,” Kinsella said. “We are optimistic this therapy could prevent long-term developmental and neurological problems in many of these children. The remarkable effects of protecting against brain injury in these very young and very small babies provide insight into the interrelationship between the lungs and brain development.”

Kinsella cautions, however, that children need to be studied for longer periods to understand better the long-term effects of treatment and to confirm the protective effects on brain development. Previous studies indicated the treatment can help full-term newborns with severe respiratory failure, but risks and benefits for lower birth weight babies has been more uncertain until now.

In 2004, more than a half-million premature babies (about 12.5 percent) were born in the United States, the highest numb
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