Defeating COVID-19’s Attack on Our Lungs:

A Preemies’ Treatment Migrates to Adults

By Shlomo Maital

Prof. Josué Sznitman and Dr. Ostrovski, Technion

   In a previous blog, Dr. Richard Levitan explained how COVID-19 attacks the lungs: “The coronavirus attacks lung cells that make surfactant. This substance helps the air sacs in the lungs stay open between breaths and is critical to normal lung function. As the inflammation from Covid pneumonia starts, it causes the air sacs to collapse, and oxygen levels fall.”  

     Current treatment often involves use of ventilators. But the results are not impressive. Between 50% and 70% of those put on ventilators do not survive.

     Two Technion Biomedical Engineering Faculty researchers, Prof. Josué Sznitman and Dr. Ostrovski, have been working for years on a way to help babies born prematurely, who have ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome), to breathe better and recover. Their problem? Lack of surfactant, crucial for the lungs’ functioning.

     Sznitman notes that for 30 years now, we have known that injecting surfactant directly into neonates’ (preemies’) lungs “greatly helps their lungs function”. The success rate, he notes, is as high as 98%!

     So, Sznitman wondered, why not inject surfactant into the lungs of suffering COVID-19 patients? Not so simple. “Instillations in larger lungs quickly gather in pools, drowning some parts of the lungs and depriving others of the surfactant”, he explained to Haaretz reporter Asaf Ronel.

       Solution? Turn the liquid surfactant into foam. “Foam has more volume than liquid, and is less affected by gravity. So it can be spread in a uniform manner throughout the lungs and restore the ‘facelift’ to the epithelial cells that [lungs] need to function properly”, he explained. Tests with rats have been highly successful. Next month preclinical trials begin with pigs.

     I wish this treatment could be speeded up and fast-tracked. I think it could save many lives.