Medicine: Head Start for Survival

Each year, 50,000 U.S. infants die soon after birth—at least 25,000 of them from respiratory distress syndrome (RDS). Also called hyaline membrane disease, RDS is caused by the inability of an infant's lungs to extract oxygen from the air and pass carbon dioxide out of the body. Even when such babies (most of them premature) survive, they may suffer permanent brain damage.

The reason the lung does not function properly is simply that it has not yet matured. One remedy for RDS is to delay birth until the lungs mature, but this requires a...

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