World first research helping kids breathe easy

FIRST ON 7: Thousands of sick babies could soon be breathing easier after a breakthrough in Queensland respiratory research.

The new oxygen therapy is a world first and it is proving so successful, it's now being trialled in hospitals across the south east.

Mother of quintuplets, Mel Keevers rarely has a chance to catch her breath but she's not complaining after watching son, Charlie, battle bronchiolitis.

“When they're so tiny, and so fragile and they're relying on the machines to help them breathe, it can be very scary,” she told 7News.

But thanks to a breakthrough in oxygen therapy, that’s all changed, which helped Charlie beat the life-threatening respiratory infection.

“It was really nice to see him getting stronger, and see him getting better and hitting the milestones they need to,” Mel said.

“Anybody who has a sick child, as hard as it is to watch your child go through that, you're also so thankful that the facilities are there to actually help them.”

The two-year-old was one of 60 children who took part in a pilot study in Brisbane.

Instead of using 100 per cent oxygen, which can leave lungs permanently damaged, researchers experimented with a mixture.

The new way of delivering oxygen is a mixture of air and oxygen,” Dr Andreas Schibler said.

“So you lower the toxicity of the oxygen to the lungs, it's humidified and heated and it's much more comfortable.”

The treatment is much more effective, dramatically reducing the number of youngsters needing life support.

“We can actually almost switch off the progression of the disease,” David Rosengren from Queensland Emergency Medicine Research Foundation said.

“This means the children don't actually deteriorate and get to that critical level that they require life support.”

A high flow nasal cannula delivers the mixture. It's simpler and less traumatic than the mask used in conventional oxygen therapy. So much so, the trial is being expanded to hospitals in Ipswich and the Gold Coast and is attracting interest from doctors worldwide.

Bronchiolitis is the leading cause of infant hospitalisation in Australia.

Regional trials of this new treatment will allow sick children to stay closer to home rather than travel to Brisbane, helping children like Charlie and their parents breathe easy.