Study provides new insights into deadly acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)

March 12, 2024
Mechanical explanation for instability in the lungs could lead to new treatments for illnesses such as COVID-19.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities may have discovered a mechanical explanation for instability observed in the lungs in cases of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), particularly in the aftermath of respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19 or pneumonia.

The research was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a peer reviewed journal of the National Academy of Sciences.

Currently, there is no known cure for ARDS, a life-threatening lung injury that allows fluid to leak into the lungs. The researchers in this study say that as many as two thirds of all patients that passed away from COVID-19 had ARDS. There is not a clear reason why specific people with a severe respiratory illness may develop ARDS, while others may not, but researchers in this study were looking to find that answer.

They identified the concentration of a lysolipid—a byproduct of the immune response to viruses and bacteria—that can have a major impact in adults suffering from ARDS. Increased concentration of this chemical eliminates the surfactant, a complex composed of fats and proteins generated in the lungs. The result is uneven lung inflation and, ultimately, respiratory distress in adults.

Previous research of neonatal respiratory distress syndrome (NRDS) in premature infants found that it could be treated by introducing replacement lung surfactant, but that was not the case in adults. It is the amount of lysolipid that determines the outcome of the surfactant in the lungs, not the breakdown of the existing lung surfactant. 

The next step in the research will be to translate these ideas into a clinical environment and test to see if they can manipulate specific molecules to make them less active or stick to a specific place. This could help drop the concentration of the lysolipids to a threshold that may be able to reverse symptoms of ARDS and put people on the road to recovery.

University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering release on Newswise