Hundreds of hospitals around the world are using a gentle intervention developed at the University of Tasmania to save the lives of premature babies by helping them breathe.
The treatment, known as ‘minimally-invasive surfactant therapy (MIST)’, but dubbed the ‘Hobart method’, was developed in 2009 and is now being adopted by newborn specialists across the globe.
It addresses the major challenge faced by premature babies in early life: breathing. When babies are born too early, their lungs don’t have enough of a crucial chemical called surfactant, which helps prevent tiny air sacs in the lungs from collapsing when they breathe out.
So, a thin tube or catheter is inserted through the trachea to instil surfactant into the lungs, helping babies breathe more easily and efficiently.
The researchers have presented and demonstrated the approach at conferences and hospitals around the world, including major paediatric and neonatal conferences in the US and Europe. Independent reports suggest it’s now used in hundreds of hospitals globally—with routine use in all Icelandic hospitals, 82 per cent of those in Norway, and 60 per cent in Finland.
Now, the method is the focus of a 36-clinic international clinical trial, the OPTIMIST-A trial. Professor Peter Dargaville, a neonatologist with the Royal Hobart Hospital, is leading the study, which will compare outcomes of the Hobart method against those of conventional interventions.
“We know from our own experience, and from those of clinicians around the world, that the method delivers surfactant effectively to the lungs,” Professor Dargaville says.
“But it’s important to understand whether using the Hobart method to give surfactant at an early time will have a lasting impact on the health and respiratory function of these vulnerable babies.”
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About Professor Peter Dargaville
Professor Dargaville is an Associate Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health with Menzies Institute of Medical Research.View Professor Peter Dargaville's full researcher profile