Newborn Breathing Conditions Research

As part of its broader commitment to research on lung diseases, the NHLBI leads and supports research and programs on newborn breathing conditions. Our research has helped scientists and clinicians better understand the causes of breathing and lung problems in newborns. We continue to support research to help find new ways to prevent and treat these conditions. 

NHLBI research that really made a difference

Ground-breaking research funded by the NHLBI has helped establish the standards of care for newborns with breathing and lung problems. Our research helped develop the use of corticosteroids to accelerate lung development in babies at risk for premature birth. We also funded studies developing the use of surfactant replacement therapy to improve breathing in premature newborns and the use of nitric oxide to treat pulmonary hypertension. These treatment methods continue to significantly improve the survival and long-term quality of life for premature newborns. Read about the study on the use of corticosteroids.

Current research funded by the NHLBI

Our Division of Lung Diseases and its Lung Biology and Disease Branch fund research on breathing conditions in newborns.

Current research on preventing and treating bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD)

  • An NHLBI-funded study on sildenafil (Viagra) is investigating a safe starting dose for babies who develop pulmonary hypertension as part of bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), a lung disease of prematurity. The medicine is often used off-label by doctors in babies to treat pulmonary hypertension and this study will help to provide clinical data on an age-appropriate dosing strategy.
  • NHLBI funds a study about the effect of positive pressure ventilation to enhance lung growth in premature babies using animal models.
  • NHLBI-funded researchers are investigating the use of inhaled vitamin A in animal models to prevent BPD by reducing lung damage. Vitamin A may improve lung development in newborns.
  • With support from the NHLBI, researchers are investigating the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and mathematical resolution of X-ray images to better understand lung problems that occur in newborns with BPD. Many imaging methods require sedation and can expose infants to radiation. New, cutting-edge MRI methods do not require either, and could provide images of the structure and function of the lungs that may help doctors diagnose and treat infants with BPD.
  • NHLBI-funded researchers are using ultra-short MRI techniques to image the lung and chest bones, including the rib cage, and correlate findings to lung volumes and capacities in the growing child.
  • With support from NHLBI, researchers are studying toddlers who were born premature and whose mothers received steroids in late pregnancy to assist with the child’s lung function and cognitive development. Similarly, premature babies who received steroids soon after birth are being studied for lung function and intellectual ability at school age.

Find more NHLBI-funded studies on bronchopulmonary dysplasia at NIH RePORTER. 

Current research on preventing and treating breathing problems related to premature birth

  • NHLBI-funded research is testing the use of therapeutic in utero gene editing called CRISPR-Cas9 to treat genetic disorders before birth that can lead to breathing issues in newborns. Babies who are born premature have less developed lungs and a deficiency of the cells that produce surfactant, which helps keep the lungs stable after birth and prevents them from collapsing. Without enough surfactant, infants struggle to breathe, a condition called respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) of the newborn.
  • Other NHLBI-funded researchers are developing synthetic lung surfactant that would be lower in cost and more accessible to newborns with RDS across the globe.
  • NHLBI-funded researchers are developing a low-cost electrode that can generate nitric oxide, a portable option for a potent pulmonary hypertension treatment that can be used worldwide.
  • A study on lung imaging software may help better predict which newborns with breathing conditions are at risk for developing serious complications like BPD or lower respiratory tract infections. Researchers are using technology called Lung Aeration and Irregular opacities Radiological analyzer (LungAIR) and electronic health record data to reduce hospitalization time and lower rates of serious complications and death in newborns with breathing conditions.

Find more NHLBI-funded studies on breathing problems related to premature birth at NIH RePORTER. 

Current research on the long-term effects of newborn breathing conditions

Find more NHLBI-funded studies on understanding the long-term effects of newborn breathing conditions at NIH RePORTER. 

Newborn breathing condition research labs at the NHLBI

Our Division of Intramural Research and its Pulmonary Branch include some of the investigators at NHLBI who are actively engaged in the study of newborn breathing conditions.

Related newborn breathing condition programs

Explore more NHLBI research on newborn breathing conditions

The sections above provide you with the highlights of NHLBI-supported research on newborn breathing conditions. You can explore the full list of NHLBI-funded studies on the NIH RePORTER.

To find more studies:

  • Type your search words into the Quick Search box and press enter. 
  • Check Active Projects if you want current research.
  • Select the Agencies arrow, then the NIH arrow, then check NHLBI.

If you want to sort the projects by budget size from the biggest to the smallest click on the FY Total Cost by IC column heading.

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