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New research may help newborns breathe easier

January 9, 2015 — 

Researchers at the University of Manitoba have just released a study that provides new insights into a common lung defect in newborns.

The research focused on a disease called congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), a condition that affects one in 2,500 newborns, making it almost as common as cystic fibrosis. Children born with CDH have a hole in their diaphragms and experience abnormal lung development. CDH is diagnosed by ultrasound before birth and if a poor outcome is anticipated, babies will be offered prenatal therapy using a balloon that forces the lungs to grow.

While closing the diaphragmatic defect is relatively easy, abnormal lung development is responsible for a mortality of 20 per cent, making CDH the birth defect with the highest death rate. It is currently not known why and how the lungs in CDH babies develop abnormally.

“We hope that our study can help to guide the quest for improved prenatal therapeutic interventions to modulate the natural course of prenatal abnormal lung development in CDH and improve the outcome in these babies,” says Richard Keijzer of the Department of Surgery and one of the authors of the study. “We hoped to identify new gene regulators to better explain the mechanisms responsible for the abnormal lung development in congenital diaphragmatic hernia. We have discovered that there are indeed certain microRNAs differently expressed in lungs from CDH babies. We have also found that a unique profile of those microRNAs can help to determine whether babies with very severe abnormal lung development would benefit from a prenatal treatment to force the lungs to grow.”

The study is being published by the Annals of Surgery and a summary of the research can be viewed here.


Members of the media wanting more information and to arrange interviews can contact Ilana Simon, Director of Communications & Marketing, College of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Manitoba, 204-789-3427, (cell) 204-295-6777 or


Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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