Premature baby in an incubator

NIHR-funded study for pre-term babies launches in Leicester

A new NIHR-funded study has opened in Leicester investigating how best to treat babies born two to six weeks early with breathing problems.

The SurfON study – which stands for Surfactant Or Not – is for babies born two to six weeks before their due date with respiratory distress.

As part of the study, the babies are allocated by a computer into one of two groups. One group is given a treatment called surfactant soon after birth and babies in the other group are closely watched by healthcare professionals, but no early surfactant is given.

Babies born pre-term, even by only a few weeks, may not be fully developed and can develop breathing problems; which can be severe. Some may require the use of a ventilator soon after birth, while others may go onto ‘non-invasive’ breather support, which means machines will provide oxygen through soft, short tubes in the nose or small masks.

The lungs of healthy full-term babies produce surfactant, a substance which makes it easier for them to breathe.

Often, babies born early do not produce enough surfactant, or their natural surfactant does not work properly. In the study, babies in the treatment group will receive a dose of surfactant into the lungs, down a small tube in the windpipe.

Professor Elaine Boyle, Leicester City FC Chair of Child Health at the University of Leicester and a consultant neonatologist at Leicester’s Hospitals, said: “There have been no research studies into when surfactant would be best given to babies born closer to term with breathing problems.

“This means healthcare professionals have no guidance on how best to treat these babies. Whilst some doctors prefer to use surfactant early, others do not and so clinical practice varies widely across hospitals in the UK.

“With the SurfON study, we aim to find out if it is better to give surfactant early - when a baby first starts to have problems - or wait and see if they will improve without it.

“We are delighted that Leicester’s Hospitals is the lead NHS site for the SurfON study, working with the University of Leicester as the study sponsor, and that we have already recruited our first baby into the study.”

The project has been funded by the NIHR Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Programme.

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