The last time we saw a huge leap in preemie survival rates was around 20 years ago, when researchers discovered infants needed surfactant in their lungs.
While the littlest preemies’ survival rates have improved since then, we haven’t seen any further significant breakthroughs… until now.
They reviewed studies on parental nutrition and preemies, and have found the simple measure of protecting the IV nutrition solution from light could provide a huge leap in preemie survival.
For infants born before 30 weeks gestation, IV nutrition is required, as their digestive systems are too immature for feeds to be taken by mouth. Researchers randomly assigned around 800 preterm infants receiving IV nutrition into two different groups.
One group was given a light-exposed solution and the other a light-shielded solution. What they found was significant.
Preterm Infants With Light-Shielded IV Solution Had Significantly Lower Mortality Rates
Jean-Claude Lavoie of the University of Montreal and his co-authors reported their findings in the Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition saying, “Mortality in the light-protected group was half of that in the light-exposed group.”
The researchers reviewed the four studies, which took place in Vancouver, France and Egypt, and included infants born from 26-31 weeks gestation. The mortality rates were assessed at the time of discharge, or what was equivalent to 36 weeks gestation.
How Does Light Impact Nutrition?
Because the preemies were too small for oral feeds, they were fed IV nutrition containing fats, sugars, vitamins and proteins to facilitate growth and development.
IV nutrition solutions are vital to these early preemies’ survival. But when the solution is exposed to light, it triggers a breakdown, causing toxic or oxidizing molecules such as hydrogen peroxide. Due to preemies’ immature antioxidant defences, these molecules can impact their health and wellbeing.
What Impact Will This Study Have?
Lavoie and his team are currently working on ways to deliver IV parental nutrition solutions that are light protected, cost effective and easy for nurses to use.
The researchers say the solution needs to be protected from when it's mixed in the pharmacy to when it's received by the infant. Lavoie isn’t aware of any Canadian hospitals that fully protect solutions from light, however research shows this may be a critical step.
Older children and adults with health complications also receive parental nutrition. The study authors believe extending the research to include these patients may reveal more ways to improve patient quality of life. The toxic and oxidizing molecules can be hard on a patient's system, and reducing the molecules might prevent potential kidney and lung issues in preemies, and others with health complications.
Medical research is ongoing, but it’s always exciting – and life changing for many – when a significant breakthrough like this occurs. One of the best aspects of this study is it appears to be a simple and low cost solution, which may have a big impact. See more in the video below.