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New Hope for Tiny Lungs

December 19, 2008

Hope is on the horizon for premature infants born before their lungs have a chance to fully develop.

“Within minutes of birth, a baby relies solely on its lungs to get the oxygen it needs,” study author Paul Kemp, from Cardiff University in the U.K., was quoted as saying. But lung development is one of the last things that occurs in the womb, so when babies are born too soon, their lungs don’t have the ability to take in enough oxygen to supply the bloodstream. This results in respiratory problems and can even lead to chronic lung disease.

Working with colleagues in the U.S., Kemp discovered a key substance in the lung development process. The molecule, called CaR, plays a critical role in relaying messages within the developing fetus that tell the lungs when to develop the channels and air pockets that will ultimately allow the baby to breathe on his own.

CaR helps the lungs develop by sensing calcium, and the good news is drugs are already available to regulate calcium use in the body.

“If we can show that one of these drugs can modulate the action of CaR in the lung, it could be used to mature the lungs of a very premature baby as it grows,” continues the professor. Since these drugs are already on the market for other purposes, getting one approved for this use could be expedited. “An existing drug could potentially be approved much more quickly than a new one,” he notes.

SOURCE: Journal of Physiology, published online December 12, 2008

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