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Pain-Relief Drugs Could be Boon for Premature Babies

In animal trials, they warded off complications from therapeutic oxygen

SATURDAY, Oct. 19, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- A group of well-known pain-relief drugs may ward off lung complications and blindness common in premature infants.

Because the lungs in premature babies are usually underdeveloped, these newborns are given oxygen to aid their breathing. However, this added oxygen also decreases chemicals, called VEGFs, that are crucial for lung and eye tissue growth.

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine College of Medicine have found that the drugs, Cox-2 inhibitors, known commercially as Celebrex, advance the levels of the vital growth-inducing chemicals, despite the amount of oxygen being administered.

Although the researchers tested Celebrex on rabbits, its impact on the growth factors in the animals may apply to humans, says Dr. Houchang Modanlou, UCI pediatrics professor and the lead researcher.

"Premature infants are exposed to high concentrations of oxygen to assist their underdeveloped lungs with breathing," Modanlou says. "Unfortunately, oxygen also contributes to the development of retinopathy of prematurity and bronchopulmonary dysplasia, two common diseases among premature infants. Cox-2 inhibitors seem to preserve the growth factors that are shut down by too much oxygen and may prevent those diseases if effective in humans."

Currently, the drug dexamethasone is given to premature infants to counter the negative effects of the oxygen. While it does prevent some diseases common in these newborns, it decreases the amount of VEGF growth-enhancing chemicals. It has also been linked to certain side effects, including delayed brain and body development and increased risk of cerebral palsy, the researchers say.

"This study indicates that Celebrex may be a more suitable alternative than dexamethasone in preventing the growth-suppressing effects of oxygen," Modanlou says. "We will still need to see how this can be effective in humans, but we may be able to preserve the growth factors necessary for healthy development without the side effects seen in current treatments."

The study is to be presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics' National Conference and Exhibition, which starts this weekend in Boston.

More Information

To learn more about premature babies, visit the American Association for Premature Infants.

SOURCE: University of California, Irvine news release, Oct. 19, 2002
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