A premature baby in the hospital
  • Faculty of Health Sciences
  • National Philanthropy Day

When a premature baby’s first breath goes wrong

When a baby is born and the umbilical cord is cut, it takes its first breath.

Instead of oxygen being delivered through the placenta in the womb, a fetal artery called the Ductus Arteriosus (DA) constricts, allowing blood to flow to the lungs to receive oxygen. 

However, in premature babies, sometimes this vessel fails to constrict, resulting in a congenital heart disease called persistent DA (PDA). In premature infants, the lung’s blood vessels may also fail to relax in response to oxygen, creating an often-fatal condition called persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN).  

With the help of the WJ Henderson Foundation, Dr. Stephen Archer, Meds’81, head of the Queen’s Department of Medicine, is working to find new ways to help babies with PDA or PPHN breathe properly during these early stages of life.

This critical research is funded in part by the WJ Henderson Foundation, a major philanthropic supporter of the Translational Institute of Medicine (TIME) and the Queen’s CardioPulmonary Unit (QCPU). The Foundation’s financial support allows QCPU, a translational research platform, to help advance the research of 66 research teams across 20 departments and three facilities at Queen’s.

That includes the work of Dr. Archer’s lab, which is developing and testing novel therapies to treat PDA and PPHN. Translational medicine (TMED) graduate student researchers in the Archer Lab (Austin Read and Rachel Bentley) have also captured unique glimpses of the DA as it closes in newborn rabbits, using with QCPU's MiLAB Vector CT scanner with the expert collaboration of Dr. Elahe Alizadeh.

“The benefits of the Henderson Foundation have been huge,” says Dr. Archer. “When a donor steps forward, it is third-party validation of the importance of your mission, and it tells Queen’s University ‘Hey, you have something special going on here.’” 

In honour of National Philanthropy Week, which runs Nov. 14-18, it is important to recognize and say thank you to organizations and donors such as the Henderson Foundation, which has provided millions in support to Queen’s. Funds from donors are important to researchers whose findings can dramatically improve the lives of people around the world.

“The money is critical. The costs of this project and the people who do the science exceeds our funding from CIH. Without philanthropy we would be in trouble! Biomedical science is so expensive. If you want to understand human diseases, there is a high cost; not tens of thousands of dollars, but millions of dollars,” says Dr. Archer. “At every step of the way, the Henderson Foundation pitched in with money and encouragement. (Henderson Foundation trustee) David Pattenden always says he invests in people, not in things. I think the people of TIME and QCPU will prove to be a wise investment.”