Doctors should avoid using nitric oxide on premature babies weighing less than 1,000 grams, according to two new studies.

The studies have been published in the New England Journal of Medicine and show that although the gas can halve the risk of developmental problems in premature babies with undeveloped lungs, the gas can be harmful to newborns who are too small and too ill.

But for slightly larger, healthier premature babies, the gas is beneficial making the lungs mature rapidly and cutting the risk of developmental problems in half.

Paediatrician Michael Schreiber of the University of Chicago, whose team tracked 138 children, said: \\$quot;Babies born at two pounds (0.9kg) have only a 50 percent chance at two years of age of being considered totally normal.\\$quot;

By the children's second birthday, 24 per cent of those given nitric oxide had problems such as blindness, hearing loss and cerebral palsy compared to 46 per cent for those who did not receive the gas.

He added: \\$quot;Not only does nitric oxide extend life in a large group of premature infants, it also improves the quality of life for the children and their parents.\\$quot;

The second study was carried out by a team from the Stanford University School of Medicine and found very small premature babies with severe respiratory failure who were given nitric oxide were just as likely to die or suffer lung damage as those given a placebo.

But babies weighing more than 1,000 grams benefited from nitric oxide benefited.

The first study was partly paid for by INO Therapeutics which makes the nitric oxide and is a division of Linde AG.

For further information:
INO Therapeutics
The New England Journal of Medicine
Linde AG