An enzyme that protects the body from reactive chemicals called free radicals is crucial in preventing the inflammation that causes chronic lung disease in premature infants, according to three new studies.
The findings could lead to improved treatments to alleviate such inflammation, preserving the lungs of premature infants, said Richard Auten, M.D., a neonatalogist and associate professor of pediatrics at Duke University Medical Center. Auten and colleagues from the Medical College of Wisconsin reported their findings in three presentations on May 2 and 3, 2004, at the Pediatric Academic Societies’ annual meeting in San Francisco. The research was sponsored by the American Lung Association and the National Institutes of Health.
In studies with mice, the researchers previously found that infant animals with an extra copy of the gene for the crucial enzyme, called superoxide dismutase, were better able to defend themselves against oxygen-free radicals. Oxygen-free radicals are highly reactive forms of oxygen that can readily combine with and damage proteins and other molecules in body tissues such as the lungs. Superoxide dismutase reacts with oxygen-free radicals, converting them into harmless byproducts.
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