Newborn lung and heart damage: help from a common steroid
Premature babies often need treatments to make sure that their underdeveloped brains, hearts and lungs receive enough oxygen. Unfortunately, high levels of oxygen can cause another problem, called bronchopulmonary dysplasia (or BPD). In BPD, the small air sacs inside the lungs (called alveoli) can become damaged, making the lungs less efficient at filtering air. This damage can spread, causing high blood pressure, pulmonary hypertension, and potentially heart failure.
It’s a double-edged sword; preemies need this oxygen to survive, yet the treatment itself has risks. To try to figure out a way to combat BPD, researchers worked with mice. They found that when newborn mice were exposed to high levels of oxygen, they too developed BPD, which also led to heart problems. But when they treated BPD mice with hydrocortisone (a common steroid), it prevented the development of pulmonary hypertension! The hope is that working with mice will help researchers understand how this works, so human infants will soon be able to benefit from essential oxygen treatments without risks. Read more about it here.