Could babies breathe more easily with new biomimetic treatment?

Pulmonologists and bioengineers at Stanford University published results this week of a peptide lung surfactant to aid breathing for premature babies and adult patients with lung illnesses.

Surfactants modify the surface tension of a liquid and improve fluid mixing. A simple surfactant like soap radically changes how oils mix with water, and the highly complex natural protein liquid that coats the inside surface of lungs is known to be vital to how oxygen transfers across the air/lung interface, a critical process for respiration.

To treat premature babies, doctors can transfer surfactant from animal lungs to improve respiration, described as a “lifesaver” technique that has rescued hundreds of thousands of patients with breathing difficulty, but the extraction process is very expensive.

Now, using biomimicry techniques, engineers have synthesised low cost molecules that substitute for the natural surfactants, and this week the joint research team published results showing the synthetic peptoids from their 20 year research effort improved blood oxygenation in animal tests.

The biomolecular engineers hope the technology will open economical treatment pathways for babies in developing countries.

Read more: Stanford / Nature / NPR

Image: Preterm Labor Wikia / Public Domain – Premature baby with beanie

This story is taken from the 11 May 2018 edition of The Warren Centre’s Prototype newsletter. Sign up for the Prototype here.