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Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

August 05, 2005

U of G Scientists Create Synthetic Lung Coating

A synthetic lung coating developed by University of Guelph and U.S. scientists may one day lead to longer-lasting and potentially life-saving treatments for respiratory problems.

Prof. Adrian Schwan and researcher Zhongyi Wang of the Department of Chemistry, along with Robert Notter of the University of Rochester, have synthesized lung surfactant lipids that last longer than currently available surfactant replacements. They are the only group in the world conducting novel research of this kind.

Lung surfactant is the moist layer of lipids and proteins that coats the lungs and keeps them from collapsing. In premature infants, a lack of lung surfactant can lead to a potentially fatal condition called respiratory distress syndrome that causes shortness of breath — a major clinical problem worldwide. In addition, infection, shock, inhaling toxic chemicals and many other injuries can damage or destroy lung surfactant, giving rise to the life-threatening clinical acute lung injury and acute respiratory distress syndrome in patients of all ages.

Although some surfactant replacements are available, they don't last very long and must be replenished constantly to keep patients breathing. "Our synthesized lipids have a number of advantages compared with current animal-derived commercial products," said Schwan.

About 85 per cent of natural lung surfactant is made from a layer of fatty phosphate-containing molecules called phospholipids. Following lung injuries, the body releases anti-inflammatory enzymes called phospholipases, which can break down the phospholipids in lung surfactant.

Currently, commercial lung surfactant replacements consist of prepared mixes of phospholipids or extracts from cow or pig lung surfactant. But these materials contain phospholipids that are still susceptible to phospholipase breakdown.

Schwan and his colleagues have used chemistry techniques to synthesize new phospholipids that aren't affected by phospholipases, which means they'll last longer in patients suffering from lung injuries and respiratory problems.

The researchers, whose work is supported by the National Institutes of Health, have published an article on their work in the journal Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry Letters. The eventual goal is to develop a synthetic surfactant that can be used to treat humans, but Schwan said the research has further-reaching implications.

"It's an important discovery in and of itself, not just because of the potential for surfactant replacement. Years from now, it could make very meaningful contributions both to chemistry and to other fields," he said.

Prof. Adrian Schwan
Department of Chemistry
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 58781/

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