If there is a country that leads this site in terms of mentions it has to be Sweden. This isn’t just because I happen to know some Neonatologists from there who are fine people but because of the fantastic research that spills forth from their national registry of births. Surfactant is one of the oldest treatments we have in Neonatology and we know that in babies with RDS giving it early within 2 hours has benefits such as reduction in pneumothorax. The reality though is that as we have become familiar with the therapy its use has spilled over to other conditions. Years ago use of surfactant in meconium aspiration syndrome was shown to reduce need for ECMO. It has also been shown to imrove clinical condition in babies with pneumonia. Interestingly as a fellow I was criticised one call night for wanting to give a three day old baby with a history of RDS and high FiO2 requirements a repeat dose of surfactant. That was in 2001 and at that time no one could believe I was suggesting such an odd thing to give a dose after 48 hours yet now this is commonplace. Again as we have become more comfortable with surfactant such “off label” use spreads. I am not being critical of my colleagues back in 2001 as that was what the “conventional wisdom” was with respect to surfactant but that was then and this is now.
Looking at their registry data for 97377 infants born from 2009-2018 they found 7980 surfactant administrations to 5209 infants. The reasons for surfactant administration are shown in the table 1 below from the paper. Clearly and not surprisingly the bulk of surfactant administration is for RDS especially as gestational age declines. Given that so few preterm infants will pass meconium in-utero it also is understandable why MAS clusters in the more mature babies.
When it comes to multiple surfactant administrations they found 59.2% received 1 administration, 25.8% received 2, 7.3% had 3, and 2.8% had 4 or more administrations. Not surprisingly the more immature infants were more likely to receive multiple administrations. I have to say at this point that I feel vindicated with that suggestion for late surfactant administration all those years ago as these extra doses would have been given up to days after the first dosing.
Now Here Comes The Interesting Part
Much like previous work before this study, delivery of surfactant within the first 2 hours of age was associated with a reduction in very important outcomes of pneumothorax, IVH and need for ventilation beyond 7 days.. In short, improving compliance has a lot of benefits! The surprise was the in-hospital survival which favoured giving surfactant late. Put another way, if you receive surfactant in the first two hours you are more likely to die in hospital.
How can that possibly be if provision of surfactant has all those benefits outlined in table 3? More on that in a bit.
The next table addresses another question which is what if you don’t get surfactant at all? Interestinly the in-hospital survival is better for that group as well. On the other hand no difference exists for pneumothorax or IVH and ventilation beyong 7 days is improved with no surfactant at all!
The Difference Between Association and Causation
Ultimately that is what I think is at play here. You could look at the information quickly and conclude that giving surfactant late or not at all improves your chances of survival! Maybe aggressive use of surfactant isn’t such a good thing after all. I think you would be wrong there though based on prospective randomized trials. What is happening here is that the baseline characteristics are not likely equal and you are really looking at three different groups of patients.
Group 1 – These are the ones who get surfactant early within 2 hours of life. My suspicion is that the number of babies in this group that are really sick who may also have other comorbid issues is higher. There might be some babies with servere IUGR, pulmonary hypoplasia, meconium aspiration or pleural effusions that made the resuscitating team so nervous that they in advance of delivery had surfactant thawing and ready to go. Yes overall this group might benefit from better compliance and have less pneumothoraces for example but their comorbid conditions put them at higher risk of death.
Group 2 – Surfactant given after 2 hours of age. These are likely babies who are not as sick as group 1. Maybe they are babies initially managed with CPAP or NIPPV who due to escalating FiO2 requirements get surfactant. Much less likely to die.
Group 3 – No surfactant needed at all. The reason there might not be a difference in the major morbidities is that while they have RDS, TTN or MAS they are mild in nature. Clearly very low risk of death here and for that matter complications.
It might have been helpful to have some meaures of acuity documented such as SNAPPE-II (Score for Neonatal Acute Physiology with Perinatal Extension-II) used as it would help us in figuring out such differences.
Overall I think the message remains the same. Give surfactant early for those with significant lung disease. What I think it adds is an awareness that repeat dosing even if off-label is being done in Neonatology. The next question will be whether this repeat dosing makes the babies better or just us!
Surfactant administration is a frequent topic on this blog and as I look over the last five years there has been an evolution with its administration from InSure to LISA/MIST and even pharyngeal surfactant through an LMA. We have also discussed aerosolization of surfactant once and now a much larger trial is out that brings this technique which has to be the least invasive into the limelight. What gives me great pleasure is being able to highlight the article here Aerosolized Calfactant for Newborns With Respiratory Distress: A Randomized Trial as the lead author is our CPS Fetus and Newborn Committee American of Pediatrics liaison Dr. James Cummings. Being able to review an article by a colleague and friend I think is always something that gives me some trepidation as what happens if the article is a poor one but in this case I feel pretty safe. The study was done by a large group of investigators known as the AERO-02 group and there are lots of gems to pick apart here.
On to the Study
This trial involving 22 NICUs enrolled Among 457 infants born with a GA from 23 to 41 (median 33) weeks and birth weight 595 to 4802 (median 1960) grams. In total, 230 infants were randomly assigned to aerosol; 225 received 334 treatments, starting at a median of 5 hours. The study allowed for repeat dosing of aerosolized surfactant up to 3 times with each treatment providing 6 mL/kg of 35 mg/mL calfactant suspension, 210 mg phospholipids/kg body weight, through a modified Solarys nebulizer shown below. The delivery device was like an inverted nipple placed in the mouth in order to deliver surfactant while the infant was on non-invasive support (CPAP, hi-flow or NIPPV).
From prior animal studies use of this method is thought to deliver approximately (14%), the surfactant dose used in or about 29 mg/kg reaching the distal alveolar bed. By allowing up to three treatments in 72 hours (there had to be a reduction in FiO2 with each treatment to allow a further one) the total delivered would be aboout 90 mg/kg although in some likely more and others less depending on depostion amounts. The study originally was planned as two cohorts but since they enrolled all in the first the second one was not used. The first cohort were:
2. had not previously received surfactant, 3. Between 1 hour to 12 hours of age,
4. Suspected or confirmed RDS requiring therapeutic administration of nasal respiratory support by nCPAP, HFNC, or NIPPV
5. Initially, there was an entry requirement FIO2 concentration of 0.25 to 0.40. Four months into the trial, it was discovered that several sites were using higher positive airway pressures to minimize FIO2. Because of this practice change, the minimum FIO2 requirement was removed in the fifth month of the trial
The trial was a pragmatic one where the authors did not specify what criteria were needed to decide when to intubate for surfactant. While this lack of standardization might turn some people off, many trials are headed this way as it represents “real life”. In other trials where you have rigid criteria if your own centre doesn’t typically use them the results of the trial in the end might just not apply. The question then is did this style of trial design in the end find a difference in outcome for the babies randomized to aerosolization or standard care with CPAP, HFNC or NIPPV to avoid intubation?
The trial met its number of patients required in the power calculation to find a difference in outcome. Demographics, receipt of antenatal steroids and levels of respiratory support at baseline were similar between groups. In the aerosol group. 225 infants received 334 treatments at a median age of 5 hours (interquartile range [IQR]: 3–7);149 (66%) received only one aerosol treatment, 43 (19%) received 2 treatments, and 33 (15%) received 3 treatments. It is also important to note that by defining the entry point of 1-12 hours of age, those with severe RDS would not have been enrolled here. Infants with apnea, or severe distress would not have been able to wait the hour time frame for entry and moreover since the aerosolization technique takes about an hour to administer those in need of urgent treatment would not be enrolled. As such we are really talking here about babies with mild to moderate RDS.
Intubation for surfactant occurred in 113 infants (50%) in the control group and 59 infants (26%) in the aerosol group, in an intent-to-treat analysis (P , .0001); RR: 0.51 (90% CI: 0.41–0.63). The number needed to treat to prevent 1 intubation is 5.
The impact of this approach was quite significant. Interestingly you would think that as GA decreased the effectiveness of the intervention would lessen but when the authors groups GA into two week brackets as shown below the only GA bracket that showed no difference in approach was the 23/24 week group. Having said that the numbers are very small on the lower end of GA for the study but again overall the results find a 50% reduction in need for intubation using this technique with the trend (by my eye) being that as GA increases the effectiveness seems to get even better.
The study was not blinded and as such the authors also took the time to look for evidence of bias in the study and found none. The last figure to show is the effect of this intervention on total duration of respiratory support between the two randomized groups. In other words while the use of the technique reduced your likelihood of intubation by 50% it didn’t get you off of non-invasive support any faster in the 72 hours after treatment.
Looking at complication rates between groups there was no difference as well.
I think what has been shown here is that aerosolized surfactant in a real world research model is safe and effective for mild to moderate RDS in reducing the need for intubation. For those infants with more significant RDS or severe apnea they will not be able to make it long enough to get these treatments. For others this does seem like something worth exploring as for those that you were going to commit to a non-invasive approach is there really any harm? There will be those that will fail but overall this data suggests that you could expect a 50% reduction in this occurrence for all your patients with mild to moderate RDS. The one fly in the ointment I see that could influence the effectiveness of this intervention is the level of support you are accustomed to using in your centre. It could be in those centres that are a bit “peepaphobic” and use a maximum of +5 or +6 on CPAP this intervention could be quite effective but in those that are willing to use +7or +8 the rate of intubation or surfactant might well be less. Regardless the intervention appears to be safe, well tolerated and can make a difference. If a delivery device could be prepared that increased deposition rates to even higher levels imagine how effective it just might be.
Intubate-Surfactant- Extubate or INSURE has been around for awhile. The concept is to place an ETT while an infant is first on CPAP and then after pushing surfactant in quickly remove the ETT and put back on CPAP. This does not always go as planned though. If after surfactant the FiO2 remains above 30% many people would keep the ETT in place as they would surmise that the infant would fail if the tube was removed. They would probably be right.
Sustained inflations have fallen out of favour ever since the SAIL trial results were published and written about here . Having said that, the concept of using sustained inflation is to open the lung and expand closed alveoli to improve both oxygenation and gas exchange. Much like giving inhale nitric oxide to a collapsed lung is unlikely to make much difference, the question could be asked whether giving surfactant to a lung that is most collapsed will fail to deliver this compliance improving medication to the areas of the lung that most sorely need it. Our Italian colleagues therefore decided to undertake a study to look at providing surfactant to lungs after a recruitment manouver and see if this made a difference to the meaningful outcome of extubation failure after surfactant provision. The results are intriguing and as such here we go in looking at the study.
Optimizing Lung Expansion
The trial is the Lung recruitment before surfactant administration in extremely preterm neonates with respiratory distress syndrome (IN-REC-SUR-E): a randomised, unblinded, controlled trial and involved 35 NICUs in Italy. All infants enrolled were born from 24 + 0 weeks to 27 6/7 weeks gestational age at birth and all < 24 hours of age at enrollment. Each baby had to be on CPAP at the time of randomization and meet prespecified failure criteria of FiO2 of 0·30 or greater for target SpO2 of 87% to 94% for at least 30 min or in 10 Infants for rapid deterioration of clinical status or if pCO2 was > 65 mm Hg with a pH less than 7·20. Regardless of which arm they were randomized to all infants received 1-2 sustained inflation breaths using 25 cm H2O for 10-15 secs using a t-piece resuscitator after being started on CPAP as was the practice at the time. After randomization which could not be blinded, patients were then either given surfactant via INSURE without any further strategy for opening the lung or received the IN-REC-SUR-E approach. The latter involved putting the infant on high frequency oscillation starting with settings of mean airway pressure 8 cm H2O; frequency 15 Hz; ΔP15 cm H2O; and inspiration to expiration ratio of 1:2. Using this modality infants underwent stepwise recruitment methods prior to administering surfactant (poractant). The primary outome was the need for mechanical ventilation within the first 72 h of life. Infants met the primary outcome if they were not extubated within 30 min after surfactant administration or required reintubation before 72 h of life.
Based on a power calculation the authors needed 103 infants in each arm and they recruited 107 in the treatment and 111 in the control arm. In the per-protcol allocation 101 received the treatment and 111 the contol. While the strategies for extubation were not set out to be equal (units were allowed to extubate to anywhere from +6 to +8 for pressure levels), the groups were not different 7·0 cm H2O, SD 0·4 for the experimental group and control arms. Given the steps taken to open the lung in the lung recruitment arm, the FiO2 was lower at 28% prior to surfactant provision in the treatment group than in the usual INSURE approach at 42% prior to surfactant provision. All infants were extubated within 30 minutes of receiving surfactant. As the results demonstrate, whether there was an intention to treat analysis or per-protocol analysis the babies who received the intervention were more likely to remain extubated. The number needed to treat was 7 which is a pretty powerful measure. Interestingly, looking at secondary outcomes there are some interesting trends as well including less mortality which on a per-protocol analysis was significant but also a trend towards more PVL at 9% in the treatment arm and 4% in the control. The mean times to surfactant administration were 4 hours in the treatment group and 3 hours in the control but the high frequency manoeuvre had a mean duration of only 30 minutes. It is possible that the use of high frequency could have blown off CO2 to very low levels but I am uncertain if the short reduction in pCO2 could have contributed significantly to reduced cerebral perfusion if that trend is representative of something. Interestingly, pneumothroaces were not different between groups as no doubt as a reader you might wonder if use of high pressures to recruit the lungs when they are non compliant might have led to air leaks.
So it worked, now what?
First of all, the results to me make a lot of sense. Opening the lung before delivering surfactant and then seeing better chances of staying extubated doesn’t really surprise me. Some questions that come up now for me would be how this strategy would fare in those who are older at birth. I suspect given the greater chest wall support and lower likelihood of severe RDS this strategy might be even more effective at reducing FiO2 or perhaps CPAP need in terms of duration after extubation. I would think it unlikely to make a difference in reintubation though as most would remain extubated regardless. That is for another study though with a different outcome.
There will be centres that don’t like the use of HFOV for recruitment so what other strategies could be used in lieu of this? I hate to say it but there will also be calls to have a much larger study specifically designed to look at the secondary outcomes. Would a larger study find a significant increase in PVL or demonstrate that it was just a random finding? Might mortality be proven to be lower and even more so?
Regardless of the above what I think this paper does is give us reason to pause before giving INSURE and ask ourselves if we have done what we can to open the lung after intubating before rushing to squirt the surfactant in. Maybe increasing the provided PEEP and lowering the FiO2 somewhat before giving surfactant will help with distribution and increase your chances of first being able to extubate and secondly when you do keeping the tube out!
I have written about non-traditional methods of providing surfactant to newborns previously. The practice of intubating a preterm infant to administer surfactant and leaving the endotracheal tube in with a slow wean of ventilation is mostly a thing of the past (at least in my units). Strategies have evolved and have seen the development of the INSURE technique, LISA methods, use of an LMA to delivery surfactant and even simple deposition into the pharynx all with variable success.
Poractant alfa at 200 mg/kg was used in this study and delivered via aerosolization using a vibrating membrane called the eFlow. The authors chose to look at infants from 29 0/7 to 33 6/7 weeks at birth and stratified them into two groups of 29 0/7 to 31 6/7 and 32 0/7 to 33 6/7 weeks. They estimated a need for 70 babies based on an anticipated failure rate of 30% in the control group vs 5% in the treatment group. Unfortunately, due to several reasons the study was only able to recruit 64 babies for randomization before being stopped due to the recruitment issues. The design of the study included adequate blinding with a sham procedure and there were predefined “failure criteria” necessitating intubation at the outset of the study. These criteria are acceptable to me as they are similar enough to my own practice and were:
1. FiO2 >0.35 over more than 30 min OR FiO2 >0.45 at
2. More than four apnoeas/hour OR two apnoeas requiring bag
and mask ventilation.
3. Two capillary blood gas samples with a pH <7.2 and partial pressure of carbon dioxide >65 mm Hg (or partial pressure
of carbon dioxide in arterial blood (PaCO2) >60 mm Hg if
arterial blood gas sample).
4. Intubation deemed necessary by the attending physician.
What did they find?
The primary outcome CPAP failure within 72 hours of birth was indeed different in the two groups.
CPAP failure by 72 hours
CPAP + surfactant
(RR (95% CI)=0.526 (0.292 to 0.950))
Clearly the event rates were quite off from what they expected in the power calculation but given that they found a difference as opposed to no difference at all the fact that they didn’t recruit the numbers they planned is of less importance.
However, what is interesting is when they looked at the planned analysis by stratification an interesting finding emerged.
Group 1 (29 0/7 to 31 6/7)
CPAP failure by 72 hours
CPAP + surfactant
(RR (95% CI)=0.860 (0.389 to 1.90))
Group 2 (32 0/7 to 33 6/7
CPAP failure by 72 hours
CPAP + surfactant
(RR (95% CI)=0.254 (0.089 to 0.727))
There were a number of secondary outcomes looked at as well which may be of interest to you but as the numbers here are quite small I will not comment other than to say there was no increased incidence of complications with surfactant administration in this fashion. Also for those who ultimately failed CPAP the time when they did so was quite delayed compared to CPAP alone. Age at intubation for nCPAP failure, hours 4.9 (2.7–10.6) 11.6 (9.0–31.1) 0.008*
What can we take from this?
I believe these results are encouraging even if the study is a small one. The message I take from this study is that aerosolization of surfactant delivers some amount of product to the lungs. Those with more significant RDS or smaller lungs (those in the 29 0/7 to 31 6/7 group) may not get enough surfactant to treat their RDS sufficiently to avoid intubation. Those with less significant RDS or a larger number of alveoli get “enough” of a dose delivered to the alveoli to make a difference and avoid intubation. It is worth stressing that there can be no specific comment about using this strategy in even more immature infants as they weren’t tested. If I had to guess though, I would expect no difference given the findings in the smaller group.
As a physician responsible for transport though I am interested in the potential benefits to those born in non-tertiary centres. Many centres lack individuals with the confidence and skill to regularly place endotracheal tubes. For these centres it may be that providing nebulized surfactant could delay the time to treatment failure, allowing more time for a trained transport team to arrive. Training of course would be needed in these centres on how to administer surfactant in this way but it is an interesting concept to consider. With a near tripling of the average time to treatment failure the extra hours on CPAP would be much appreciated when weather delays or difficulty securing air assets means long delays in transport team arrivals.
To be sure this isn’t the last study of this kind but it certainly is an interesting start and one that will no doubt produce questions that will help formulate the next study design.
A real change is coming and with this post you will get a glimpse into where the next big thing in Neonatology is likely to be. A catchy title for sure and also an exaggeration as I don’t see us abandoning the endotracheal tube just yet. There has been a lot of talk about less invasive means of giving surfactant and the last few years have seen several papers relating to giving surfactant via a catheter placed in the trachea (MIST or LISA techniques as examples). There may be a new kid on the block so to speak and that is aerosolized surfactant. This has been talked about for some time as well but the challenge had been figuring out how to aerosolize the fluid in such a way that a significant amount of the surfactant would actually enter the trachea. This was really a dream of many Neonatologists and based on a recently published paper the time may be now for this technique to take off.
A Randomized Trial of Aerosolized Surfacant
Minocchieri et al as part of the CureNeb study team published Nebulised surfactant to reduce severity of respiratory distress: a blinded, parallel, randomised controlled trial. This trial set out to obtain a sample size of 70 patients between 29 0/7 to 33 6/7 weeks to demonstrate a difference in need for intubation from 30% down to 5% in patients treated with CPAP (30% was based on the historical average). The authors recognizing that the babies in this GA bracket might behave differently, further stratified the randomization into two groups being 29 0/7 – 31 6/7 weeks and 32 0/7 to 33 6/7 weeks. Those babies who were on CPAP and met the following criteria for intubation were either intubated in the control group and given surfactant (curosurf) using the same protocol as those nebulized or had surfactant delivered via nebulisation (200 mg/kg: poractant alfa) using a customised vibrating membrane nebuliser (eFlow neonatal). Surfactant nebulisation(100 mg/kg) was repeated after 12 hours if oxygen was still required. The primary dichotomous outcome was the need for intubation within 72 hours of life, and the primary continuous outcome was the mean duration of mechanical ventilation at 72 hours of age.
Criteria for intubation
1. FiO2 >0.35 over more than 30 min OR FiO2 >0.45 at
2. More than four apnea/hour OR two apnea requiring BVM
3. Two cap gases with pH <7.2 and PaCO2 >65 mm Hg (or) >60 mm Hg if arterial blood gas sample).
4. Intubation deemed necessary by the attending physician.
Did It Work?
Eureka! It seemed to work as 11 of 32 infants were intubated in the surfactant nebulisation group within 72 hours of birth vs.22 out of 32 infants receiving CPAP alone (RR (95% CI)=0.526 (0.292 to 0.950)). The reduction though was accounted for by the bigger babies in the 32 0/7 to 33 6/7 weeks group as only 1 of 11 was intubated when given nebulized surfactant compared to 10 of 13 managed with CPAP. The duration of ventilation in the first 72 hours was not different between the groups: the median (range) 0 (0–62) hour for the nebulization group and 9 (0–64) hours for the control group (p=0.220). It is important in seeing these results that the clinicians deciding whether infants should be intubated for surfactant administration were blind to the arm the infants were in. All administration of curosurf via nebulization or sham procedures were done behind a screen.
The total number of infants randomized were 66 so they did fall shy of the necessary recruitment but since they did find a difference the results seem valid. Importantly, there were no differences in complications although I can’t be totally confident there really is no risk as this study was grossly underpowered to look at rarer outcomes.
Breaking down the results
This study has me excited as what it shows is that “it kind of works“. Why would larger babies be the ones to benefit the most? My guess is that some but not a lot of surfactant administered via nebulization reaches the alveoli. Infants with lesser degrees of surfactant deficiency (32 0/7 to 33 6/7) weeks might get just enough to manage without an endotracheal tube. Those infants (in particular less than 32 0/7 weeks) who have more significant surfactant deficiency don’t get enough and therefore are intubated. Supporting this notion is the overall delay in time to intubation in those who were intubated despite nebulization (11.6 hours in the nebulization group vs 4.9 hours in the control arm). They likely received some deposition in the distal alveoli but not enough to completely stave off an endotracheal tube.
One concerning point from the study though had to do with the group of infants who were intubated despite nebulization of surfactant. When you look at total duration of ventilation (hours) it was 14.6 (9.0–24.8) in the control arm vs 25.4 (14.6–42.2) p= 0.029*. In other words infants who were intubated in the end spent about twice as long intubated as those who were intubated straight away. Not a huge concern if you are born at 32 weeks or more but those additional thousands of positive pressure breaths are more worrisome as a risk for CLD down the road.
As it stands, if you had an infant who was 33 weeks and grunting with an FiO2 of 35% might you try this if you could get your hands on the nebulizer? It appears to work so the only question is whether you are confident enough that the risk of such things as pneumothorax or IVH isn’t higher if intubation is delayed. It will be interesting to see if this gets adopted at this point.
The future no doubt will see a refinement of the nebulizer and an attempt to see how well this technique works in infants below 29 weeks. It is in this group though that prolonging time intubated would be more worrisome. I don’t want to dismiss this outright as I see this as a pilot study that will lead the way for future work that will refine this technique. If we get this right this would be really transformative to Neonatology and just might be the next big leap.
A common concern in the NICU these days is the lack of opportunity to intubate. A combination of an increasing pool of learners combined with a move towards a greater reliance on non-invasive means of respiratory support is to blame in large part. With this trend comes a declining opportunity to practice this important skill and with it a challenge to get a tube into the trachea when it really counts. One such situation is a baby with escalating FiO2 requirements who one wishes to provide surfactant to. Work continues to be done in the area of aerosolized surfactant but as of yet this is not quite ready for prime time. What if there was another way to get surfactant to where it was needed without having to instill it directly into the trachea whether through a catheter (using minimally invasive techniques) or through an endotracheal tube?
Installation of surfactant into the trachea
Lamberska T et al have published an interesting pilot study looking at this exact strategy. Their paper entitled Oropharyngeal surfactant can improve initial stabilisation and reduce rescue intubation in infants born below 25 weeks of gestation takes a look at a strategy of instilling 1.5 mL of curosurf directly into the pharynx for infants 22-24 weeks through a catheter inserted 3-4 cm past the lips as a rapid bolus concurrent with a sustained inflation maneuver (SIM) of 25 cm of H2O for 15 seconds. Two more SIMs were allowed of the heart rate remained < 100 after 15 seconds of SIM. The theory here was that the SIM would trigger an aspiration reflex as the pressure in the pharynx increased leading to distribution of surfactant to the lung. The study compared three epochs from January 2011 – December 2012 when SIM was not generally practiced to July 2014 – December 2015 when SIM was obligatory. The actual study group was the period in between when prophylactic surfactant with SIM was practiced for 19 infants.
A strength of the study was that resuscitation practices were fairly standard outside of these changes in practice immediately after delivery and the decision to intubate if the FiO2 was persistently above 30% for infants on CPAP. A weakness is the size of the study with only 19 patients receiving this technique being compared to 20 patients before and 20 after that period. Not very big and secondly no blinding was used so when looking at respiratory outcomes one has to be careful to ensure that no bias may have crept in. If the researchers were strongly hoping for an effect might they ignore some of the “rules around intubation” and allow FiO2 to creep a little higher on CPAP as an example? Hard to say but a risk with this type of study.
What did they find?
The patients in the three epochs were no different from one and other with one potentially important exception. There were higher rates of antenatal steroid use in the study group (95% vs 75 and 80% in the pre and post study epochs). Given the effect of antenatal steroids on reducing respiratory morbidity, this cannot be ignored and written off.
Despite this difference it is hard to ignore the difference in endotracheal intubation in the delivery room with only 16% needing this in the study group vs 75 and 55% in the other two time periods. Interestingly, all of the babies intubated in the delivery area received surfactant at the same percentages as above. The need for surfactant in the NICU however was much higher in the study period with 79% receiving a dose in the study group vs 20 and 35% in the pre and post study groups. Other outcomes such as IVH, severe ROP and BPD were looked at with no differences but the sample again was small.
What can we take from this?
Even taking into account the effect of antenatal steroids, I would surmise that some surfactant did indeed get into the trachea of the infants in the study group. This likely explains the temporary benefit the babies had in the delivery suite. I suspect that there simply was not a big enough dose to fully treat their RDS leading to eventual failure on CPAP and a requirement for intubation. Is all lost though? Not really I think. Imagine you are in a centre where the Neonatologist is not in house and while he/she is called to the delivery they just don’t make it in time. The trainee tries to intubate but can’t get the tube in. Rather than trying several times and causing significant amounts of airway trauma (as well as trauma to their own self confidence) they could abandon further attempts and try instilling some surfactant into the pharynx and proving a SIM. If it works at all the baby might improve enough to buy some time for them to be stabilized on CPAP allowing time for another intubater to arrive.
While I don’t think there is enough here to recommend this as an everyday practice there just might be enough to use this when the going gets tough. No doubt a larger study will reveal whether there really is something here to incorporate into the tool chest that we use to save the lives of our smallest infants.