Editor’s Note: In this Special Blog, we continue our series on the 4th of the 7 Great Achievements of Pediatric research. These achievements are brought to you courtesy of the fabulous work by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) under its new campaign 7 Great Achievements in Pediatric Research.

No. 4: Saving Premature Babies by Helping Them Breathe

Prematurity is the main cause of global death in newborn infants.

In the United States alone, 1 in 9 newborns is born prematurely, about 450,000 children a year. Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS) is a life-threatening respiratory condition frequently diagnosed in premature newborns. Research showed that it develops when the immature lungs are unable to produce a compound known as surfactant in quantities needed for the infant to breathe.

Studies demonstrated that instillation of surfactant to the lungs of premature animals reduced respiratory distress. Clinical trials of supplementary surfactant for newborns with RDS led to the medication’s approval by the FDA for widespread use in 1990.

As a result of surfactant administration, newborn deaths from RDS have decreased by 41% between 1985-1991.