Understanding, preventing, and treating respiratory diseases in premature infants

In France today, 20% of pregnancies are pathological, that is to say that they endanger the mother and/or the child’s health. These are mainly cases of preterm birth and intra-uterine growth retardation. Premature birth is the cause of half of all disabilities at birth. Intra-uterine growth retardation also causes many other diseases later in life, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardio-vascular disease, etc.

The Air Liquide Foundation Award for scientific research on health and respiration rewards two research projects led by the PremUp Foundation that focus on respiratory diseases in preterm infants.

A cross-disciplinary approach to fight premature birth

Recognizing the importance of preventing these diseases through research, professional training, and ensuring that women are well-informed, PremUp – a foundation for scientific cooperation – was created in 2007 by INSERM*, Assistance Publique des Hôpitaux de Paris, and by Paris 5-6-7 and Paris 12 universities. The PremUp Foundation is now a network of maternity wards, neonatal units, and research laboratories that carry out research to protect pregnant women, prevent premature births, and treat the complications of premature birth.

The Air Liquide Foundation supported the two research programs below, led by Professor Pierre-Henri Jarreau, head of the Neonatal Medicine and Intensive Care Unit of Port Royal hospital in Paris.

Treating pulmonary inflammation in preterm infants

Every year in France, 7 % of babies are born preterm, including 4,000 babies with bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). This chronic disease may lead to various complications for the child, such as bronchiolitis or asthma. It may disturb the child’s neurological development, growth, and learning capacities. There is no preventive treatment at this time, and the anti-inflammatory medications currently used in neonatal units have significant side effects, in particular neurological impacts. The Air Liquide Foundation supports this research program to understand the inflammatory mechanisms behind this pathology and to develop new treatments for this disease by testing a new class of anti-inflammatory agents.

The impact of intra-uterine growth retardation on the lungs of newborn infants

Intra-uterine growth retardation (IUGR) refers to the poor growth of a fetus, often caused by poor nutrition or lack of adequate oxygen supply linked to a poorly functioning placenta. As the leading cause of severe premature birth and infant mortality, IUGR affects more than 80,000 pregnancies per year in France and is one of the most complex pathologies that obstetricians and neonatologists face on a daily basis. At this time, the only possible treatment is to induce birth prematurely. Several recent epidemiological studies have shown that the rate of bronchopulmonary dysplasia is multiplied by 4.4 in cases of intra-uterine growth retardation. In an effort to understand the link between IUGR and pulmonary disease, the research project demonstrated the deregulation of a metabolic pathway that is important to normal pulmonary development. This deregulation appears when there are anomalies in lung alveolar development.

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To find out more

PremUp’s Website: www.premup.org

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* National Institute for Health and Medical Research

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Testimonials

The Air Liquide Foundation has been supporting PremUp since 2009, on two fundamental and clinical research projects on the lungs of preterm infants, with a donation of €170,000. We are delighted to contribute to PremUp’s work, which aims, first of all, at improving our understanding of the physiopathological mechanisms of bronchopulmonary dysplasia, a chronic respiratory disease with serious consequences in preterm infants; and secondly, to develop suitable new therapeutic treatments.

Marc Lemaire
International Senior Expert
Air Liquide Healthcare International R&D
Paris-Saclay Research Center