January 16, 2009

Injection Found Ineffective in Helping Premature Babies Fight Infections

Researchers have reported findings that suggest a treatment commonly used to help premature babies fight infection is ineffective.

Researchers studied 280 babies born at 31 weeks or under to form their surprising conclusion reported in The Lancet.
Doctors have used granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF) in order to help prematurely born infants naturally boost their immune systems by increasing white blood cell growth to prevent blood poisoning.

GM-CSF is effective in stimulating white blood cell growth among cancer patients whose immune systems have been damaged by chemotherapy.

However, Dr Robert Carr, of Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital NHS Trust, and colleagues found no significant difference in difference in deaths from blood poisoning among premature babies who were given GM-CSF and those who did not.

"The majority of medications used in premature babies have not been specifically evaluated in them," said Carr.

"One of the problems is that drug companies are much less interested in funding research in smaller babies," he said.

They did note that the protein was effective in stimulating an increase in the number of white blood cells.

Researchers said they observed no beneficial protection against infection among 139 babies who received an injection of GM-CSF once a day for five days compared to 141 babies who received traditional care.

"Early postnatal prophylactic GM-CSF corrects neutropenia but does not reduce sepsis (blood poisoning) or improve survival and short-term outcomes in extremely preterm neonates," said Dr Carr.

"Treatments that are effective in adults cannot be assumed to be effective in premature babies. The majority of medications used in premature babies have not been specifically evaluated in them."


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The Lancet