Mention the term “blood doping” and sports scandals immediately come to mind. But, researchers at Seattle Children’s are using Erythropoeitin, EPO, to try to save young lives.
EPO is the same hormone that brought down Lance Armstrong and other elite athletes. It works by increasing red blood cells, which boosts endurance.
Dr. Sandra Juul at Seattle Children’s plans to use that same hormone for a more noble cause – to give the littlest premature babies better odds in the race to stay alive and healthy.
“This group of tiny babies still has about 20 percent mortality, 20 percent have severe neurological impairment, which means Cerebral palsy, or mental impairment, deafness or blindness and 20 percent have moderate impairment,” said Dr. Juul.
That amounts to 60 percent bad outcomes for babies born at 28 weeks or younger, the beginning of the third trimester, which is a period when their brains are still growing and expected to increase five-fold.
So far, animal testing has been encouraging.
“It’s been used to treat anemia for the last 25 years, so it is a drug that’s available and it’s FDA approved and if we show benefit, it can easily be rolled out to treat preemies across the country,” said Juul.
The goal: to give preemies a much needed edge, to cheat death and disability.
Dr. Juul said she hopes to enroll almost 1,000 patients in this nationwide trial that is funded by the National Institutes of Health.