Pulmonary surfactant potential treatment for COVID-19-induced respiratory failure


LONDON, ON – Researchers at Lawson Health Research Institute (Lawson) have launched a new study to investigate the use of bovine lipid extract surfactant suspension (BLES®) for treating severe cases of COVID-19.

Surfactant is made of lipids and proteins. Its primary function is to reduce surface tension in the alveoli in the lungs, helping us to exchange gases and breathe more efficiently. Alveoli can be described as tiny, balloon-like air sacs that exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide to and from the blood stream. When there is less surfactant being produced, or the surfactant is dysfunctional, alveolar walls can stick together, making it difficult to breathe.

Lung analyses from patients with severe COVID-19-induced respiratory failure indicate there is a change in their alveolar type-II cells; the cells which secrete surfactant. This suggests a change to the surfactant being produced, and a decrease in its functional efficacy.

Dr. Jim Lewis, Lawson Scientist and Respirologist at St. Joseph’s Health Care London, and his colleague, Lawson Scientist Dr. Ruud Veldhuizen, are studying whether the use of BLES®, an exogenous surfactant, given at the time of intubation, will help improve outcomes such as gas exchange, need for mechanical ventilation, systemic inflammatory response, and length of ICU and hospital stay in patients with severe COVID-19.

BLES® is a pulmonary surfactant, manufactured in London, Ontario. It is currently used worldwide to help improve lung function in premature babies. Researchers are confident that it can help adults who develop lung disease and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

Dr. Jim Lewis explains, “BLES® has been studied in pediatric and adult populations with ARDS, and we have found that it improves outcomes in patients with direct lung injury when compared to patients receiving standard treatment. We have proven this treatment effective in the past, and COVID-19 seems to be another prototypic case that we think will respond well.”

“Mechanical ventilation, while sometimes necessary, can cause damage to the lungs,” says Dr. Veldhuizen. “In previous studies, we’ve been able to show that if you give the surfactant early, prior to ventilation, you can prevent some of this damage from occurring.”

“The world is focused on finding good treatments for COVID-19. This kind of research is only possible through strong partnerships, and we are thankful for the collaboration that is possible here in London. Many different experts are involved in this study, including scientists and research staff, physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, and staff at BLES® Biochemicals,” adds Dr. Veldhuizen.

Researchers hope to recruit ten patients to receive the exogenous surfactant, with another ten serving as the control group.


See all Lawson Media Releases

About Lawson Health Research Institute

Lawson Health Research Institute is one of Canada’s top hospital-based research institutes, tackling the most pressing challenges in health care. As the research institute of London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London, our innovation happens where care is delivered. Lawson research teams are at the leading-edge of science with the goal of improving health and the delivery of care for patients. Working in partnership with Western University, our researchers are encouraged to pursue their curiosity, collaborate often and share their discoveries widely. Research conducted through Lawson makes a difference in the lives of patients, families and communities around the world. To learn more, visit www.lawsonresearch.ca.

Media Contacts
Celine Zadorsky

Communications Consultant & External Relations
Lawson Health Research Institute
T: 519-685-8500 ext. 75664
C. 519-619-3872