Vicky recently started working on a new study in the lab. She is working with Professor Anne Greenough to measure lung function in a group of children who were born prematurely (early). When babies are born early, their lungs have not had enough time to develop and often don’t work very well. The machines and oxygen we use to support their breathing while they are growing can also cause some lung damage, though we are now much better (thanks to research) at giving the right breathing support.
A group of about 150 babies took part in a study between 2008 and 2009 where they had lung function measurements made when they were just ready to go home from the hospital, and then again when they were a year old. Some also had measurements made at two years old. During these first one or two years, researchers recorded whether the babies got any chest infections, and if so then they took a sample of snot to look at what bugs were causing the infection. Using the lung function measurements, the researchers could see what bugs did more damage to babies’ lungs during that early part of their lives when they were growing and developing fast. They found that babies with worse lung function when they left hospital were more likely to get infections, and also that having particular genes put babies at higher risk of getting chest infections.
Vicky’s new study is to measure lung function and breathing muscle activity in these children (who are now 6 or 7 years old). We will then be able to look back and see what difference particular bugs, as well as the genes and the babies’ early lung function measurements, made to how well their lungs work now. Other recent research has shown that the lungs can grow a lot more after birth than we first thought they could, and so it might be that it’s not necessarily just as simple as having smaller lungs earlier on or getting one nasty bug being the thing that decides how well your lungs work once you get a bit older.
Vicky has measured four children already this week and they’ve all been really brilliant at trying hard at the tests. The study will be going until July next year – it will take a long time to measure 150 children!