Surfactant and inhaled nitric oxide make beautiful music together

Surfactant and inhaled nitric oxide make beautiful music together

If you work in Neonatology you no doubt have listened to people talk in rounds or at other educational sessions about the importance of opening the lung. Many units in the past were what you might call “peepaphobic” but over time and with improvements in technology many centers are adopting an attitude that you use enough PEEP to open the lung. There are some caveats to this of course such as there being upper limits to what units are comfortable and not just relying on PEEP but adding in surfactant when necessary to improve pulmonary compliance.

When we think about giving nitric oxide the importance of opening the lung can’t be stressed enough. I have heard it said many times when a baby has been found to be a “non responder” to inhaled nitric oxide that they may have been so because the lung wasn’t open. What we mean by this is that the distal alveoli are open. One can administer all the iNO in the world but if the majority of alveoli are collapsed the drug can’t get to the pulmonary vasculature and cause the pulmonary vasodilation that is so sorely needed in the presence of hypoxemic respiratory failure. Surfactant and inhaled nitric oxide in the presence of hypoxemic respiratory failure could be a great combo as one would help open the alveoli and then the iNO could address any pulmonary vasoconstriction which might be exacerbating the hypoxemic state.

Study Tests This Theory

Researchers in Chile led by Gonzalez A published Early use of combined exogenous surfactant and inhaled nitric oxide reduces treatment failure in persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn: a randomized controlled trial in the Journal of Perinatology. The concept of this study was to compare in a double blind RCT for 100 patients (based on a power calculation looking for a 25% reduction in treatment failure) whether provision of surfactant as up to 2 doses and iNO would be better than just iNO alone. Included infants needed an oxygenation index (OI = MAPXFiO2/pO2) of 20 or more to qualify and treatment failure was an OI of 40 or more. The patients recruited were similar in common characteristics including types of conditions that would benefit from iNO. RDS, meconium aspiration syndrome and pneumonia certainly have been shown to benefit from surfactant before while in the PPHN category that is questionable. In order to ensure that it was not just the primary disease but pulmonary hypertension that was present as well, all patients required confirmation of pulmonary hypertension prior to enrollment via ECHO with either a TR jet indicating a pulmonary pressure at least 2/3 of systemic or right to left shunting at the ductal or atrial level.

The results of the study demonstrated a clear difference in the primary outcome.

Patients receiving the combination of surfactant prior to starting iNO showed a faster reduction in OI than those receiving iNO alone. In fact the reduction in primary outcome of treatment failure was over 50% different while the power calculation had been based on only a 25% difference. That’s ok as this means there were more than enough patients to demonstrate a difference. As a secondary outcome the rate of ECMO or death was also different between the groups favouring use of surfactant.

It works so now what?

Who doesn’t like seeing a study that confirms what you have long believed. I feel that this study validates the teaching I received throughout the years about ensuring the lung is open before giving iNO. There are some caveats to this however. About 90% of the patients studied had conditions present (RDS, MAS, pneumonia) for which surfactant would have been indicated anyway. If this study had been done let’s say in patients with asphyxia induced pulmonary hypertension and clear lungs the surfactant may have made no difference as the lungs were already open. I mention this as I don’t think readers of this analysis need to jump to the conclusion that every time there is a patient with PPHN that you MUST give surfactant. What I think this illustrates though is the importance of first asking the question if iNO is being considered “Have I opened the lungs?”. The next time you encounter such a patient consider whether you are using enough PEEP and whether surfactant is indicated. The bottom line is if the lung isn’t open then all the iNO in the world isn’t going to make much difference!

Is inhaled nitric oxide at birth good for all ELGANs?

Is inhaled nitric oxide at birth good for all ELGANs?

Inhaled nitric oxide has been around for some time now. I recall it being called at one point in medical school “endothelial relaxation factor” and then later on identified as nitric oxide. Many years later it finds itself in common usage in NICUs all over the world. Our experience though has been for treatment of pulmonary hypertension and for that it is pretty clear that for those afflicted by that condition it can be lifesaving. Over the years other uses have been looked at including prevention of BPD (turned out not to be the case). Rescue approaches therefore have found to be useful but on the prophylactic side of things not so much.

Maybe starting earlier is the key?

A group based out of Oklahoma has published a pilot study that raised an eyebrow for me at least. Krishnamurthy et al released Inhaled Nitric Oxide as an Adjunct to Neonatal Resuscitation in Premature Infants: A pilot, double blind, randomized controlled trial . The study set out to recruit 40 infants who between 30-90 seconds of life if requiring PPV would either get iNO 20 ppm with 30% oxygen or 30% oxygen and placebo for ten minutes. At ten minutes weaning of iNO by 1 ppm per minute for a total of 17 minutes was done. The primary outcome of interest was FiO2 required to achieve target oxygen saturations. As with many studies that seek enrollment prior to delivery this study was a challenge as well with early termination of the study after 28 babies (14 in each group) were recruited.

Did they find anything interesting?

In spite of the low numbers in the study, the authors did find a divergence in the FiO2 needed to achieve the target oxygen saturations.

The authors conclusions were that the cumulative exposure to FiO2 was lower in the iNO group as well as the maximum exposed FiO2 of 39% vs 48% (although this almost but not quite met statistical significance. Even then this is a pilot study so inferring too much could be a dangerous thing.

The study though does get one thinking but we need to be wary of letting our brains do some mental trickery. Lower FiO2 seems like a good thing given what we know about oxygen free radicals. What about rapid lowering of pulmonary vascular resistance with exogenous iNO? Is this a good thing or could other things be lurking around the corner? Could a larger study for example find a higher rate of pulmonary hemorrhage with rapid reductions in PVR? The authors did not find harm in the study but again with small numbers it is hard to conclude too much.

What this small study does though is raise many questions that I think could be interesting to answer. If a patient needs less FiO2 at 17 minutes after study entry might there be less perceived need for higher PEEP if ventilated or CPAP levels if on non-invasive support? Less pressure could lead to less risk of pneumothorax (or more perhaps if under treated but with respiratory distress. Less pressure might also influence longer term risks of BPD from barotrauma or volutrauma for that matter.

Regardless this is only the beginning. I have no doubt there will be further trials on the way. The trick will be as in this study to obtain consent unless a deferred consent could be obtained but I have my doubts about getting that. Nonetheless, wait for more to come!