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Very immature preemie survives, thanks to experimental drug

by | Jun 15, 2017

Born 12 weeks premature weighing the same as a loaf of bread

By Dave Andrusko

Twins Sophie (left) and Emily Kearey were born very premature. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Twins Sophie (left) and Emily Kearey were born very premature.
Picture: GREGG BROWN

An experimental drug used to assist preemies with immature lung development is being credited with saving the life of a now 2-year-old toddler who weighed the same as a loaf of bread when she was born.

Twins Sophie and Emily Kearey were delivered by Caesarean section 12 weeks early when doctors learned they had developed twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. TTTS is rare and potentially lethal and occurs only in identical twins where blood from one baby moves into the other. In TTTS one sibling, called the recipient, takes too much blood from the other–the “donor twin”–who can suffer stunted growth as a result.

And that’s what happened to the babies whose parents live with them in Colchester, Essex, England.

Sophie weighed 3lb 3oz, but Emily weighed just 1lb 13oz . She “was suffering with respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), a life-threatening condition that affects many premature babies due to immature lungs and a lack of surfactant – a naturally-occurring substance which coats the tiny lung sacs and prevents the lungs collapsing at the end of each breath,” according to reporter Geraldine Scott.

Ordinarily babies with this condition are treated with extra surfactant derived from the lungs of pigs. But according to Chad Nugent

at the time the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital where the girls were born were part of an international clinical trial investigating synthetic surfactant CH5633.

The study was the first time it had been tested on humans and Emily was one of just 40 babies in Europe to take part.

Thankfully, she responded to the treatment and after two weeks on the neonatal unit, was allowed to go back to Colchester General Hospital and then back home.

Now more than two years later, lively toddler Emily has hit all her milestones and the findings on the trial have been published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Sophie’s and Emily’s parents agreed their daughter should participate in the clinical trials. Emily received her first surfactant treatment directly into her lungs when she was just six hours old.

Dr. David Sweet, Chief Investigator for the study and consultant neonatologist at the Royal Maternity Hospital in Belfast, led the trial.

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“This important study has shown the new synthetic surfactant CH5633 appears safe for use in premature babies and looks to be a promising new treatment when they have breathing difficulties,” Dr. Sweet said.

“Working in healthcare we knew a little bit about clinical research and were happy for Emily to go into the study, but it was still a daunting decision to make,” said Dad Roger Kearey, a General Practitioner.

“We had complete trust in the doctors and were confident that we had been provided with all the information necessary to make our decision.

“It was important for us to take part in this study, for Emily first and foremost, but also because we knew that this could help premature babies with similar difficulties in the future.

“We received brilliant care from the team at NNUH and are grateful for their expertise and support.”

Dr. Sweet told Scott “Our study paved the way for a much larger study now underway which is continuing to evaluate the effectiveness of CH5633.”

“If,” he continued, “this larger study confirms it to be an effective treatment, we hope it will eventually be made widely available to treat future premature babies born with breathing difficulties.”

Categories: Premature babies