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Synthetic surfactant developed for improving treatment of lung diseases

Synthetic surfactant developed for improving treatment of lung diseases

Scientists have developed and tested a new synthetic surfactant that could lead to improved treatments for lung disease and injury, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports. The study showed that, unlike other synthetic surfactants currently on the market, the new surfactant equaled or outperformed the animal-derived surfactant in every outcome.

Our lungs are coated with a substance called surfactants which allows us to breathe deliberately. It may happen that due to premature birth or lung injury, the surfactant gets depleted or may be missing. This causes difficulty in breathing.

Lung surfactant is made up of lipids and proteins which help lower tension on the lung’s surface, reducing the amount of effort needed to take a breath. The proteins, called surfactant-associated proteins, are very difficult to create in a laboratory and so the surfactant most commonly used in medicine is obtained from animal lungs.

Dr. Fred  Possmayer and his associates pioneered the technique used to purify and sterilize lung surfactant extracted from cows known as bovine lipid extract surfactant (BLES)which is used by nearly all neonatal intensive care units in Canada to treat premature babies with respiratory distress.

“When we look at treating adults, surfactant therapy is more difficult. For example, their lungs are 20 times bigger than those of babies and so we need much higher doses of surfactant,” explains Dr. Ruud Veldhuizen, a scientist at Lawson and an associate professor at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. “We, therefore, need to find novel approaches to surfactant therapy for adult patients.”

He added, “Since it is made in the lab, we could combine the surfactant with other drugs like antibacterial agents and deliver it to specific areas of the lung, such as those where an infection is located.”.

The synthetic surfactant was created in joint collaboration with the researchers from Lawson Health Research Institute and Stanford University,

Scientists at Stanford created protein mimics which looked like surfactant-associated proteins having similar properties but with higher stability. This led to the creation of a new synthetic surfactant.

Researchers then evaluated the synthetic surfactant in an animal. The study showed that the new surfactant equaled or outperformed the animal-derived surfactant in every outcome including outperforming animal-derived surfactant in oxygenating blood, the primary function of the lungs.

The unique ability of the Veldhuizen lab to perform these rigorous and sophisticated studies was a critical aspect of the success of this project,” says Dr. Barron, associate professor at Stanford.

“These are very promising results,” says Dr. Veldhuizen. “For the first time, a synthetic surfactant has been developed which appears to be just as effective, if not more so, as that taken from the lungs of animals.

The team estimates that the synthetic surfactant is very cost effective and with a lower cost the synthetic surfactant could be tested with more lung diseases and injuries in adults and can be made available in more developing countries.

The researchers will further continue their study to find out the long-term efficacy of the synthetic surfactant. The team also hopes to test its ability to be customized for specific diseases.

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Source: With inputs from the journal Scientific Reports

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