The most common chronic illness in premature babies, affecting almost one in three, is the chronic inflammatory lung condition, bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). Of all the conditions they could face, this is the one that’s most likely to cause long-term health problems including respiratory issues, learning difficulties, impaired brain development and cerebral palsy.
BPD has no cure, and it causes considerable suffering for premature infants and their families.
“If we can lessen the burden of this significant complication, everyone stands to gain from it,” says A/Prof Nold.
“As a mum myself, nothing in science would give me greater pleasure than to help other families by easing or even eliminating the burden of chronic diseases such as BPD.”
What causes BPD?
Babies who are born preterm are often placed on essential and life-saving respiratory support to get crucial oxygen to the heart and all other organs. Sadly, because of this life-saving care, up to 60 per cent of the babies develop BPD soon after birth. BPD is caused by severe injury to the lung tissue and prevents normal lung growth.
“BPD is a devastating disease, and these babies often suffer lifelong conditions. When we tackle lung disease, the risk of developing many other problems is also reduced,” says A/Prof Nold.
Knowing that inflammation is a key driver of BPD, the team has discovered a safe and effective anti-inflammatory treatment that could save preterm babies.
Their discovery has shown that the natural protein IL-1Ra, which the body uses to curb excessive inflammation, is effective in preventing BPD.
“In preclinical timing and dosing studies, we determined that IL-1Ra works best to prevent the development of BPD when it was given immediately after birth, before chronic inflammation can establish itself, and at a lower, rather than higher dosage,” A/Prof Nold says.
“We are hopeful that IL-1Ra could be a safe prevention strategy for at-risk premature infants. This is the first step towards a therapy for chronic lung disease in very vulnerable premature infants.”
With no safe or effective treatment for these babies, this work provides families with new hope and a healthier lifelong outlook.
Recruitment for a first trial of IL-1Ra in premature infants is planned for early 2022.
- Up to 60 per cent of preterm babies will develop BPD.
- The anti-inflammatory drug IL-1Ra has been used safely by around 200,000 patients since its introduction in the early 2000s. complications.