Neonatal Lung Disease

Babies born prematurely have severely underdeveloped lungs requiring supplemental oxygen and mechanical ventilation in the neonatal intensive care unit. Unfortunately, such medically necessary interventions place survivors of premature birth at high risk of subsequent long-term lung diseases, particularly bronchopulmonary dysplasia and asthma, and effects such as wheezing. Unlike in adult asthma, factors such as high levels of oxygen and ventilators contribute to diseases of the infant and beyond. A major focus of the laboratory is examining how oxygen and mechanical insults to the developing lung contribute to neonatal lung disease, particularly asthma. The major ongoing projects are:

Mechanisms of oxygen toxicity

Using human fetal lung cells, the laboratory has found that growth factors including neurotrophins, and signaling molecules such as cyclic nucleotides are key elements that mediate oxygen effects in the developing lung. Ongoing studies using human cells and animal models are focused on determining whether interfering with these mechanisms can alleviate neonatal lung disease.

Vitamin D as therapy

Premature babies tend to be deficient in vitamin D. In addition, asthmatic children can also be resistant to corticosteroids that are normally used to treat asthma. Novel studies in the lab have identified a potentially therapeutic role for vitamin D to improve responses of airways to steroids. Ongoing studies are exploring whether and how vitamin D can be used as a therapeutic adjunct in neonatal asthma with potential implications for adult asthma as well.