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A tenth of all patients in intensive care in the world, and many of those who suffer from acute cases of Covid-19, develop what is known as Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). The therapeutic hypothermia, consisting of a deliberate cooling of the body, could improve the prognosis of this ailment, according to a study carried out by the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM).

This new work, carried out in the laboratory of Jesús Pérez-Gil by researcher Chiara Autilio and her colleagues, has shown that therapeutic hypothermia has effects on the lungs at the molecular level, and could be applied to the treatment of ARDS. The results have been published in Nature Scientific Reports, to be presented at the Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society that this year is being held virtually.

Inside our lungs, the authors explain, is found the surfactant system, a molecular combination essential for breathing. Premature babies, for example, can be born without developing it yet, so they will require replacement surfactant treatments to breathe. On the other hand, this system can deteriorate and break down in adults suffering from lung damage or inflammation.

Through therapeutic hypothermia, a cooling of the body to 33 ° C, it has been possible to improve breathing both in premature babies and in adults who have suffered cardiac arrest. Additionally, other studies have pointed to a possible benefit for ARDS. To prove this, Autilio’s team wanted to focus on the possibility of directly cooling the surfactant system. After isolating it in the laboratory, explains the researcher, “we discovered an increase in its activity when keeping it at 33 ° C.”

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At that temperature, they could see, the surfactant had a more attenuated surface tension, which could facilitate the passage of oxygen through the membranes of the lungs. They also found that this lower tension changed surface molecular activity, preventing the surfactant system from being hampered by blood molecules, which can occur in the event of lung injury.

The results indicate that hypothermia therapy can be used to “help patients with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome to breathe.” To date, the researchers explain, other laboratories have launched clinical trials to apply therapeutic hypothermia to severe respiratory problems associated with Covid-19. The Biophysics for Biotechnology and Biomedicine laboratory of the UCM is also working on the creation of a surfactant that “could work in the context of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome” as explained by Autilio.

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