Researchers work to improve health of premature babies

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH)– There’s ongoing research to help babies born too soon. Yale researchers are looking into improving the health of premature babies by focusing on their under-developed lungs.

What Yale researchers are doing is looking at the intricacies of how bacteria and viruses are moved in and out of the lungs in hopes of developing therapies and technology that could someday improve a premature baby’s chance of survival as well as quality of life.

Born at 32 weeks, now 8-month-old Jaxon Buchholz has yet to go home from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital.

“He has just had a rough road and then he has developed all kinds of respiratory trouble, his lungs are not big enough,” said Katie Buchholz, Jaxon’s Mom. “He has just been having a really hard time breathing.  He had to get a tracheotomy.”

Jaxon requires extra oxygen to breathe normally to survive.

“Yes it keeps the baby alive but unfortunately it also creates damage and so the question is to find the balance between the toxicity and the advantages,” said Dr. Vineet Bhandari, Yale-New Haven Hospital.

It’s for his patients like Jaxon, Neonatologist Dr. Vineet Bhandari  is in a Yale laboratory teaming up with Dr. Michael Choma, focusing on the under developed lungs of premature babies.

“We know from other disease where the flow of mucus is impaired, we know that really reduces survival of patients” said Choma.

They are specifically looking at how the mucus in the lungs moves bacteria and viruses and the role of hair-like cilia which acts like a brush.

“If we can figure out this movement of these hair cells happening and how the mucus is getting blocked, if we can sit down and somehow figure out a protein that can make this movement as normal as possible, then the mucus movement would be normal.  So it would be able to get away all these organisms and bad things that are potentially damaging to these babies,” said Bhandari.

There is the lab where laser imaging technology is being developed to get a clearer picture.

“And what we see the flickering along the wall there, it is the cilia moving back and forth,” said Choma.”We think if we can better quantify the flow of mucus in the lungs, this flow of mucus that removes bacteria, pollen, viruses from the lungs, we can then maybe able to ‘A’ better able to monitor lung disease in the NICU. And two-, maybe even develop drugs that can enhance the flow of mucus of the lungs.”

It can’t come soon enough for Jaxon and his parents coping with good and bad days.

“He’s a fighter, there have been multiple times that they told us, they didn’t think he was going to make it through the night and he did make it through the night and the day after,” said  Buchholz .

The research is funded by the March of Dimes of Connecticut. And this Sunday is the March for Babies. There are two locations.

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