SCIENCE / MEDICINE : Prenatal Test for Steroid Therapy

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

A USC geneticist has developed a prenatal test that should be able to determine which babies with respiratory distress syndrome will respond to treatment with steroids, thereby making it easier for physicians to determine the proper treatment for them. Respiratory distress syndrome, characterized by immature development of the lungs, strikes one in five premature infants and can be life-threatening.

Conventional treatment of the syndrome involves using corticosteroids, which promote maturation of the lung. But 20% of babies with the syndrome do not respond to the drug. These infants are exposed to the side effects of corticosteroids without the benefits, and effective treatment is delayed.

Michael Melnick reported last week in the American Journal of Medical Genetics that premature mice that do not respond to steroid therapy have a distinctive genetic pattern that can be recognized by prenatal screening. Because humans have a similar pattern, the test should work for them as well. Clinical trials could begin within a year.

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