The human body truly is a wondrous thing. Molecules made from one organ, tissue or cell can have far reaching effects as the products take their journey throughout the body. As a medical student I remember well the many lectures on the kidney. How one organ could control elimination of waste, regulate salt and water metabolism, blood pressure and RBC counts was truly thought provoking. At the turn of the century (last one and not 1999 – 2000) Medical school was about a year in length and as the pool of knowledge grew was expanded into the three or four year program that now exists. Where will we be in another 100 years as new findings add to the ever growing volume of data that we need to process? A good example of the hidden duties of a molecule is erythropoetin (Epo) the same one responsible from stimulating red blood cell production.
Double Duty Molecule
In saying that I am simplifying it as there are likely many processes this one hormone influences in the body but I would like to focus on its potential role in neuroprotection. In 1999 Bernaudin Et al performed an animal study in mice to test this hypothesis. In this elegant study, strokes were induced in mice and the amount of Epo and Epo receptors measured in injured tissues. Levels of both increased in the following way “endothelial cells (1 day), microglia/macrophage-like cells (3 days), and reactive astrocytes (7 days after occlusion)”. To test the hypothesis that the tissues were trying to protect themselves the authors then administered recombinant human Epo (rhEpo) to mice prior to inducing stroke and the injury was clearly reduced. This established Epo as a potential neuroprotectant. Other animal studies then followed demonstrating similar findings.
A Human Trial
When you think about hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) you can’t help but think of whole body cooling. The evidence is pretty clear at this point that cooling in this setting reduces the combined outcome of death or neurodevelopmental disability at 18 months with a number needed to treat of 7. The risk reduction is about 25% compared to not those not cooled so in other words there is room to improve. Roughly 30-40% of infants who are cooled with moderate to severe HIE will still have this outome which leaves room for improvement. This was the motivation behind a trial called High-Dose Erythropoietin and Hypothermia for Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy: A Phase II Trial. This was a small trial comparing 50 patients (24 treated with rhEpo and cooling to 26 given placebo) who were treated with 1000 U of rEpo on days 1,2,3,5 and 7. Primary outcome was neurodevelopment at 12 months assessed by the Alberta Infant Motor Scale (AIMS)and Warner Initial Developmental Evaluation. A significant improvement in a subset of mobility on the latter was found and a significant difference in the AIMS overall. An additional finding giving support for a difference was that blinded reviews of MRI scans demonstrated a singificant improvement in brain tissue in those who received rhEPO. One curious finding in this study was that the mean timing of administration of rhEPO was 16.5 hours of life. Knowing that the benefit of cooling is best when done before 6 hours of age one can only wonder what impact earlier administration of a neuroprotective agent might have. This suggests that the addition of rEPO to cooling has additional impact but of course being a small study further research is needed to corroborate these findings.
The Next Step
This past week Malla et al published an interesting paper to add to the pool of knowledge in this area; Erythropoietin monotherapy in perinatal asphyxia with moderate to severe encephalopathy: a randomized placebo-controlled trial. This study was done from the perspective of asking if rhEPO by itself in resource poor settings without access to cooling in and of itself could make a difference in outcome for patients with HIE. This was a larger study with 100 Hundred term neonates (37 weeks or greater) with moderate or severe HIE. Fifty were randomized by random permuted block algorithm to receive either rhEPO 500 U kg− 1 per dose IV on alternate days for a total of five doses with the first dose given by 6 h of age (treatment group) or 2 ml of normal saline (50 neonates) similarly for a total of five doses (placebo group) in a double-blind study. The primary outcome was combined end point of death or moderate or severe disability at mean age of 19 months and the results of this and other important outcomes are shown below.
Death/disability (mod/severe HIE)
Death/disability (mod HIE only)
Seizures treatment at 19 months
To say that these results are impressive is an understatement. The results are on par with those of cooling’s effect on reduction of injury and improvement in outcome. When looking at the primary outcome alone the result in dramatic when put in perspective of looking at number needed to treat which is 4! This is significant and I can’t help but wonder if the impact of this medication is at least in part related to starting the dosing within the same window of effectiveness of therapeutic hypothermia. Importantly there were no adverse effects noted in the study and given that rhEpo has been used to treat anemia of prematurity in many studies and not found to be associated with any significant side effects I would say this is a fairly safe therapy to use in this setting.
I find this puts us in a challenging position. The academic purists out there will call for larger and well designed studies to test the combination of rhEPO and cooling both initiated within 6 hours of age. While it takes years to get these results might we be missing an opportunity to enhance our outcomes with this combination that is right in front of us. The medication in question other than raising your RBC count has little if any side effects especially when given for such a short duration and by itself and possibly with cooling increases the rate of neuroprotection already. I don’t know about you but I at least will be bringing this forward as a question for my team. The fundamental question is “can we afford to wait?”
The importance of collaborating in a respectful manner cannot be overemphasized, as a calm and well prepared team can handle just about anything thrown their way. This past week I finally had the opportunity to take the 7th ed NRP instructor course. What struck me most about the new version of the course was not the approach to the actual resuscitation but the preparation that was emphasized before you even start! It only takes 30 seconds to establish who is doing what in a resuscitation and while it would seem logical to divide up the roles each will take on it is something that has not been consistently done (at least in our institution). When a baby is born and responds to PPV quickly, this may not seem that important but in a situation where a team is performing chest compressions, placing an emergency UVC and moving on to epinephrine administration it certainly is nice to know in advance who is doing what.
The Golden Hour
We and many other centres have adopted this approach to resuscitation and at least here developed a checklist to ensure that everyone is prepared for a high risk delivery. While teams may think they have all the bases covered, when heart rates are racing it may surprise you to see how many times crucial bits of information or planning is missed. As I told you in another post I will be releasing a series of videos that I hope others will find useful. The video in this case is of a team readying itself for the delivery of a preterm infant that they anticipate will have respiratory distress. Ask yourself as you watch the film whether your team is preparing to this degree or not. Preparing in such a fashion certainly reduces the risk of errors caused by assumptions about who is doing what or what risk factors are present.
As you can tell I am a big fan of simulation in helping to create high functioning teams! More of these videos can be accessed on my Youtube channel at
As a Neonatologist I doubt there are many topics discussed over coffee more than BPD. It is our metric by which we tend to judge our performance as a team and centre possibly more than any other. This shouldn’t be that surprising. The dawn of Neonatology was exemplified by the development of ventilators capable of allowing those with RDS to have a chance at survival. As John F Kennedy discovered when his son Patrick was born at 34 weeks, without such technology available there just wasn’t much that one could do. As premature survival became more and more common and the gestational age at which this was possible younger and younger survivors began to emerge. These survivors had a condition with Northway described in 1967 as classical BPD. This fibrocystic disease which would cripple infants gave way with modern ventilation to the “new bpd”.
The disease has changed to one where many factors such as oxygen and chorioamnionitis combine to cause arrest of alveolar development along with abnormal branching and thickening of the pulmonary vasculature to create insufficient air/blood interfaces +/- pulmonary hypertension. This new form is prevalent in units across the world and generally appears as hazy lungs minus the cystic change for the most part seen previously. Defining when to diagnose BPD has been a challenge. Is it oxygen at 28 days, 36 weeks PMA, x-ray compatible change or something else? The 2000 NIH workshop on this topic created a new approach to defining BPD which underwent validation towards predicting downstream pulmonary morbidity in follow-up in 2005. That was over a decade ago and the question is whether this remains relevant today.
I don’t wish to make light of the need to track our rates of BPD but at times I have found myself asking “is this really important?” There are a number of reasons for saying this. A baby who comes off oxygen at 36 weeks and 1 day is classified as having BPD while the baby who comes off at 35 6/7 does not. Are they really that different? Is it BPD that is keeping our smallest babies in hospital these days? For the most part no. Even after they come off oxygen and other supports it is often the need to establish feeding or adequate weight prior to discharge that delays things these days. Given that many of our smallest infants also have apnea long past 36 weeks PMA we have all seen babies who are free of oxygen at 38 weeks who continue to have events that keep them in hospital. In short while we need to be careful to minimize lung injury and the consequences that may follow the same, does it matter if a baby comes off O2 at 36, 37 or 38 weeks if they aren’t being discharged due to apnea or feeding issues? It does matter for benchmarking purposes as one unit will use this marker to compare themselves against another in terms of performance. Is there something more though that we can hope to obtain?
When does BPD matter?
The real goal in preventing BPD or at least minimizing respiratory morbidity of any kind is to ensure that after discharge from the NICU we are sending out the healthiest babies we can into the community. Does a baby at 36 weeks and one day free of O2 and other support have a high risk of coming back to the hospital after discharge or might it be that those that are even older when they free of such treatments may be worse off after discharge. The longer it takes to come off support one would think, the more fragile you might be. This was the goal of an important study just published entitled Revisiting the Definition of Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia: Effect of Changing Panoply of Respiratory Support for Preterm Neonates. This work is yet another contribution to the pool of knowledge from the Canadian Neonatal Network. In short this was a retrospective cohort study of 1503 babies born at <29 weeks GA who were assessed at 18-21 months of age. The outcomes were serious respiratory morbidity defined as one of:
(1) 3 or more rehospitalizations after NICU discharge owing to respiratory problems (infectious or noninfectious);
(2) having a tracheostomy
(3) using respiratory monitoring or support devices at home such as an apnea monitor
or pulse oximeter
(4) being on home oxygen or continuous positive airway pressure at the time of assessment
While neurosensory impairment being one of:
(1) moderate to severe cerebral palsy (Gross Motor Function Classification System ≥3)
(2) severe developmental delay (Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler
Development Third Edition [Bayley III] composite score <70 in either cognitive, language, or motor domains)
3) hearing aid or cochlear implant use
(4) bilateral severe visual impairment
What did they find?
The authors looked at 6 definitions of BPD and applied examined how predictive they were of these two outcomes. The combination of oxygen and/or respiratory support at 36 weeks PMA had the greatest capacity to predict this composite outcome. It was the secondary analysis though that peaked my interest. Once the authors identified the best predictor of adverse outcome they sought to examine the same combination of respiratory support and/oxygen at gestational ages from 34 -44 weeks PMA. The question here was whether the use of an arbitrary time point of 36 weeks is actually the best number to use when looking at these longer term outcomes. Great for benchmarking but is it great for predicting outcome?
It turns out the point in time with the greatest likelihood of predicting occurrence of serious respiratory morbidity is 40 weeks and not 36 weeks. Curiously, beyond 40 weeks it becomes less predictive. With respect to neurosensory impairment there is no real difference at any gestational age from 34-44 weeks PMA.
From the perspective of what we tell parents these results have some significance. If they are to be believed (and this is a very large sample) then the infant who remains on O2 at 37 weeks but is off by 38 or 39 weeks will likely fair better than the baby who remains on O2 or support at 40 weeks. It also means that the risk of neurosensory impairment is largely set in place if the infant born at < 29 weeks remains on O2 or support beyond 33 weeks. Should this surprise us? Maybe not. A baby who is on such support for over 5 weeks is sick and as a result the damage to the developing brain from O2 free radical damage and/or exposure to chorioamnionitis or sepsis is done.
It will be interesting to see how this study shapes the way we think about BPD. From a neurosensory standpoint striving to remove the need for support by 34 weeks may be a goal worth striving for. Failure to do so though may mean that we at least have some time to reduce the risk of serious respiratory morbidity after discharge.
Thank you to the CNN for putting out what I am sure will be a much discussed paper in the months to come.
I am fortunate to work with a group of inter-professionals who strive for perfection. When you connect such people with those with skills in multimedia you create the opportunity for education. I can’t say enough about the power of education and moreover the ability to improve patient outcomes when it is done well.
With this post I am going to be starting to share a collection of videos that I will release from time to time. The hope with any release like this is that you the reader wherever you are may find some use from these short clips. My thanks to the team that put these together as the quality is beyond compare and the HD quality is great for viewing on any device.
Placing A Chest Tube Can Be A Difficult Thing
As I said to a colleague in training the other day, a chest tube may seem daunting but once you see how it is done it loses some of its intimidation. Having said that, once you see it placed it can be a long time between opportunities for you to view another. That is where having a repository of videos comes in that you can watch prior to the next opportunity. These very short clips are easy to access when needed and may calm the nerves the next time you are called to place a chest tube.
A Word About Chest Tubes
The videos in question demonstrate how to place a Thal quick chest tube. In case this looks foreign to you it may be because you are using the older generation style of chest tubes that come equipped with a trocar. Even without the use of the trocar, these rigid tubes carry a significant risk of lung laceration or other tissue injury. For a review of such complications related to chest tube insertion see Thoracostomy tubes: A comprehensive review of complications and related topics.
The jury as they say is still out with respect to the use of these softer chest tube sets. There is no question that they are easier to place than the traditional thoracostomy tube. Their pliability though does carry a significant risk of kinking or blockage as we have seen in some patients when the Thal chest tube set is used to drain fluid in particular. Less of an issue with air leaks.
Start of a series
This post I suppose marks a slightly new direction for the blog. While I thoroughly enjoy educating you with the posts about topics of interest I see an opportunity to help those who are more visual in their learning. The videos will be posted over the next while with accompanying written posts such as this. They can be accessed on my Youtube channel at
This is becoming “all the rage” as they say. I first heard about the strategy of feeding while on CPAP from colleagues in Calgary. They had created the SINC * (Safe Individualized Feeding Competence) program to provide an approach to safely introducing feeding to those who were still requiring CPAP. As news of this approach spread a great deal of excitement ensued as one can only imagine that in these days when attainment of oral feeding is a common reason for delaying discharge, could getting an early start shorten hospital stay? I could describe what they found with the implementation of this strategy but I couldn’t do it the same justice as the presenter of the data did at a recent conference in Winnipeg. For the slide set you can find them here. As you can imagine, in this experience out of Calgary though they did indeed find that wonderful accomplishment of shorter hospital stays in the SINC group. We have been so impressed with the results and the sensibility of it all that we in fact have embraced the concept and introduced it here in both of our units. The protocol for providing this approach is the following.
I have to admit, while I have only experienced this approach for a short time the results do seem to be impressive. Although anecdotal a parent even commented the other day that she felt that SINC was instrumental in getting her baby’s feeding going! With all this excitement around this technique I was thrown a little off kilter when a paper came out suggesting we should put a full stop to feeding on CPAP!
What caused my spirits to dampen? This study enrolled preterm infants who were still on CPAP at ≥ 34 weeks PMA and were taking over 50% of required feeding volumes by NG feeding. The goal was to look at 15 patients who were being fed on CPAP +5 and with a mean FiO2 of 25% (21-37%) using video fluoroscopic swallowing studies to determine whether such patients aspirate when being fed. The researchers became concerned when each of the first seven patients demonstrated abnormalities of swallowing function indicating varying degrees of aspiration. As such they took each patient off CPAP in the radiology suite and replaced it with 1 l/min NP to achieve acceptable oxygen saturations and repeated the study again. The results of the two swallow studies showed remarkable differences in risk to the patient and as such the recruitment of further patients was stopped due to concerns of safety and a firm recommendation of avoiding feeding while on CPAP was made.
Table 2. Percentage of all swallows identified with swallowing dysfunction
Variable Mean ± s.d.
Mean ± s.d.
Mean ± s.d.
Mild pen. %
Deep pen. %
Nasopharyngeal reflux %
Taking these results at face value it would seem that we should put an abrupt halt to feeding while on CPAP but as the saying goes the devil is in the details…
CPAP Using Ram Cannulae
Let me start off by saying that I don’t have any particular fight to pick with the RAM cannulae. They serve a purpose and that is they allow CPAP to be delivered with a very simple set of prongs and avoid the hats, straps and such of more traditional CPAP devices. We have used them as temporary CPAP delivery when moving a patient from one area to another. As the authors state the prongs are sized in order to ensure the presence of a leak. This has to do with the need to provide a way for the patient to exhale when nasal breathing. Prongs that are too loose have a large leak and may not deliver adequate pressure while those that are too tight may inadvertently deliver high pressure and therefore impose significant work of breathing on the patient. Even with appropriate sizing these prongs do not allow one to exhale against a low pressure or flow as is seen with the “fluidic flip” employed with the infant flow interface. With the fluidic flip, exhalation occurs against very little resistance thereby reducing work of breathing which is not present with the use of the RAM cannula.
Trying to feed an infant who is working against a constant flow as delivered by the RAM cannulae is bound to cause problems. I don’t think it should be a surprise to find that trying to feed while struggling to breathe increases the risk of aspiration. Similarly, under treating a patient by placing them on nasal prongs would lead to increased work of breathing as while you may provide the needed O2 it is at lower lung volumes. Increasing work of breathing places infants at increased risk of aspiration. That is what I would take from this study. Interestingly, looking at the slide set from Calgary they did in fact use CPAP with the fluidic flip. Smart people they are. It would be too easy to embrace the results of this study and turn your nose to the SINC approach to feeding on CPAP. Perhaps somewhere out there someone will read this and think twice about abandoning the SINC approach and a baby will be better for it.
* SINC algorithm and picture of the fluidic flip courtesy of Stacey Dalgleish and the continued work of Alberta Health Services
Producing milk for your newborn and perhaps even more so when you have had a very preterm infant with all the added stress is not easy. The benefits of human milk have been documented many times over for preterm infants. In a cochrane review from 2014 use of donor human milk instead of formula was associated with a reduction in necrotizing enterocolitis. More recently similar reductions have been seen in retinopathy of prematurity. Interestingly with respect to the latter it would appear that any amount of breast milk leads to a reduction in ROP. Knowing this finding we should celebrate every millilitre of milk that a mother brings to the bedside and support them when it does not flow as easily as they wish. While it would be wonderful for all mothers to supply enough for their infant and even more so that excess could be donated for those who can’t themselves we know this not to be the case. What we can do is minimize stress around the issue by informing parents that every drop counts and to celebrate it as such!
Why Is Breast Milk So Protective
Whether the outcome is necrotizing enterocolitis or ROP the common pathway is one of inflammation. Mother’s own milk contains many anti-inflammatory properties and has been demonstrated to be superior to formula in that regard by Friel and no difference exists between preterm and term versions. Aside from the anti-inflammatory protection there may be other factors at work such as constituents of milk like lactoferrin that may have a protective effect as well although a recent trial would not be supportive of this claim.
Could Mother’s Own Milk Have a Dose Response Effect in Reducing The Risk of BPD?
This is what is being proposed by a study published in early November entitled Influence of own mother’s milk on bronchopulmonary dysplasia and costs. What is special about this study and is the reason I chose to write this post is that the study is unusual in that it didn’t look at the effect of an exclusive human milk diet but rather attempted to isolate the role of mother’s own milk as it pertains to BPD. Patients in this trial were enrolled prospectively in a non randomized fashion with the key difference being the quantity of mothers own milk consumed in terms of a percentage of oral intake. Although donor breast milk existed in this unit, the patients included in this particular cohort only received mother’s own milk versus formula. All told, 254 infants were enrolled in the study. As with many studies looking at risks for BPD the usual culprits were found with male sex being a risk along with smaller and less mature babies and receipt of more fluid in the first 7 days of age. What also came up and turned out after adjusting for other risk factors to be significant as well in terms of contribution was the percentage of mother’s own milk received in the diet.
Every ↑ of 10% = reduction in risk of BPD at 36 weeks PMA by 9.5%
That is a really big effect! Now what about a reduction in costs due to milk? That was difficult to show an independent difference but consider this. Each case of BPD had an additional cost in the US health care system of $41929!
What Lesson Can be Learned Here?
Donor breast milk programs are a very important addition to the toolkit in the NICU. Minimizing the reliance on formula for our infants particularly those below 1500g has reaped many benefits as mentioned above. The availability of such sources though should not deter us from supporting the mothers of these infants in the NICU from striving to produce as much as they can for their infants. Every drop counts! A mother for example who produces only 20% of the needed volume of milk from birth to 36 weeks corrected age may reduce the risk of her baby developing BPD by almost 20%. That number is astounding in terms of effect size. What it also means is that every drop should be celebrated and every mother congratulated for producing what they can. We should encourage more production but rejoice in every 10% milestone.
What it also means in terms of cost is that the provision of lactation consultants in the NICU may be worth their weight in gold. I don’t know what someone performing such services earns in different institutions but if you could avoid two cases of BPD a year in the US I would suspect that nearly $84000 in cost savings would go a long way towards paying for such extra support.
Lastly, it is worth noting that with the NICU environment being as busy as it is sometimes the question “are you planning on breastfeeding?” may be missed. As teams we should not assume that the question was discussed on admission. We need to ask with intention whether a mother is planning on breastfeeding and take the time if the answer is “no” to discuss why it may be worth reconsidering. Results like these are worth the extra effort!