Breathing life into premature babies

Dr. Georg Schmölzer develops techniques to resuscitate newborns within minutes after birth

Georg SchmölzerEvery year, 10% of babies born worldwide are preterm and Alberta’s rates remain one of the highest in Canada. Many of these babies have breathing issues that must be immediately addressed after birth, or face health consequences that are quite severe and long-term. Dr. Georg Schmölzer, a neonatologist at the Stollery Children's Hospital neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) located at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, is addressing this concern.

“Being born premature has certain effects on your life and the younger [babies] are, the more they need help,” Schmölzer says. “Research is very important if you want to give preterm babies the best possible life and options available. There are a lot of things we learned over the years where we can improve.”

WCHRI is supporting Schmölzer to study how respiratory function monitors can help preterm babies to breathe. Often, when babies require help to breathe, the clinical team uses face masks that may not fit properly, which causes air leakage around the face mask and therefore does not provide the babies with enough air. Using a respiratory function monitor has shown to reduce mask leakage — resulting in fewer babies that have to be attached to a breathing machine, severe brain injuries, chronic lung diseases, or other negative long-term consequences.  

Currently, Schmölzer is also looking at a new chest compression technique for preterm infants called “chest compression during sustained inflation.” The technique may result in fewer interruptions to compressions and ensure that more air is supplied to the baby than it would during normal compression techniques. “If the trial works out and is finished by 2019, we can aim for the 2020 new resuscitation guidelines and have everyone in the world use the new technique,” says Schmölzer. Another interesting finding of the study is that babies don’t require 100% oxygen gas when they need chest compressions. “We know now that giving oxygen causes problems… [The babies] who get oxygen don’t breathe as well. They need more help long term.

Schmölzer’s recruitment to the Stollery Children's Hospital NICU, located at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, was supported by a WCHRI Recruitment & Retention Award. This will allow him to continue work at the Centre for the Studies of Asphyxia and Resuscitation — the leading neonatal trial centre in Canada (which he founded in 2014.) His next steps are to continue identifying ways to improve long-term health outcomes for newborn infants that require resuscitation.

Schmölzer is grateful to his team members for their help, the members of the Resuscitation, Stabilization team, the Triage team and the parents who participate in the trials: “I want to say thanks to all my exceptional team members as well as the parents because I couldn’t do it without their support. A lot of parents are quite altruistic; they say it might help the next generation.”

Dr. Georg Schmölzer’s Recruitment & Retention award, as well as his Seed award to improve mask ventilation was funded by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation through WCHRI. For more information on Schmölzer’s research, visit www.research4babies.org.

Dr. Schmölzer was also recently featured in a video interview by Be the Cure

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