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Saving Premature Babies by Helping Them Breathe

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Problem

Prematurity is the main cause of global death in newborn infants.

In the United States alone, 1 in 9 newborns is born prematurely, about 450,000 children a year. Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS) is a life-threatening respiratory condition frequently diagnosed in premature newborns. Research showed that it develops when the immature lungs are unable to produce a compound known as sur- factant in quantities needed for the infant to breathe.

Discovery

Studies demonstrated that instillation of surfactant to the lungs of premature animals reduced respiratory distress. Clinical trials of supplementary surfactant for new- borns with RDS led to the medication’s approval by the FDA for widespread use in 1990.

Outcome

As a result of surfactant administration, newborn deaths from RDS have decreased by 41% between 1985-1991.