A recent study released by the Johns Hopkins Children's Center finds that administering nitric oxide gas to infants born prior to 34 weeks may not provide a health benefit in most cases. Babies born pre-term are regularly given nitrous oxide gas in an effort to improve survival rates and avoid disabilities and related complications such as lung problems or neurological damage.
This study looked specifically at infants born prior to the 34th week rather than near-term infants born within several weeks of full term. The report indicates that the benefits of nitric oxide for these near-term infants are widely accepted.
The Johns Hopkins study analyzed numerous clinical trials to arrive at their results. In their initial evaluation of the data they were unable to identify any reduction in mortality or other health risks among those premature infants given the treatment. However, when they reevaluated the data, they did find a small variation which suggested that the nitric oxide gas treatment may provide a benefit for certain infants in a few cases.
Partially due to the few inconsistent trials which showed slightly reduced instances of complications for infants treated with nitric oxide, the researchers are not suggesting that the treatment should be summarily discontinued for infants born significantly premature. Rather, they call for a careful, case by case analysis of each infant's level of brain and lung development before considering the potential benefits of the treatment.
While it is more satisfying when studies like this produce definitive results, it is encouraging to know that researchers are devoting resources to improving the care of premature infants.
Source: Johns Hopkins Children's Center - Hold The Gas? Inhaled Nitric Oxide of No Benefit to Most Premature Babies, January 10, 2011