The Foundation of Stars is privileged to regularly come into contact with scientific researchers in numerous fields. In February, we began sharing information on novel and exciting studies targeting various areas of pediatric research, all of them presented in layman’s terms, to help you learn more about the latest advances in the world of science. In May, we will be focusing on the perinatal health of infants.
A look back in time
In 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy (wife of JFK) gave birth to a son during the 34th week of her pregnancy. He developed what was called “hyaline membrane disease”, a condition whereby a child’s lungs are not fully developed and not sufficiently flexible. He died a mere 39 hours after being born. This death of the only slightly premature son of a President of the United States occurred in spite of the involvement of some of the best medical minds of the time. This event triggered a staggering increase in neonatal research, including studies by Canadian scientists. Half a century later, a child born at only 34 weeks is rarely considered “at risk”. In fact, mortality and significant side effects occur most frequently in patients born at less than 27 weeks. 99% of the infants born at 30 weeks or more will survive the neonatal period. Many of them, however, will require significant care before being able to return home.
Dr. Étienne Fortin-Pellerin, a junior researcher at the CHUS Sherbrooke research centre, received funding from the Foundation of Stars to begin studying liquid breathing as a tool to prevent pulmonary damage in infants born extremely prematurely This major and critical step led to a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) twenty times larger than expected, spread out over a 3-year period. An excellent example of attracting additional funding!
Liquid breathing involves filling the lungs with a liquid from the perfluorocarbon family, which can transport vast quantities of oxygen before being exchanged thanks to a vent designed in Sherbrooke.
Dr. Fortin-Pellerin believes that his team is the one best equipped to ensure this technology’s rapid use on a clinical basis. His main research program focuses on improving the treatment of the most premature patients in the neonatal unit, in other words, those at the tip of the premature iceberg.
Dr. Fortin-Pelletier, because of his medical specialty, is called upon to best treat premature infants on a daily basis. In the Western world, between 7 and 12% of all babies are born prematurely. Despite these impressive statistics, few people are aware of the magnitude of this problem, yet the families affected must deal with significant stress. They are initially forced to deal with the “great unknown”, while Dr. Fortin-Pelletier makes every effort to keep their newborns alive during this precarious period. Luckily, advances in medicine are such that the vast majority of newborns kept in the neonatal intensive care unit survive and continue to live with no major side effects. The takeaway in all of this is that neonatology research is what has allowed all of these children to have fulfilling life.