Earlier this month, we reported on the amazing, life-saving effects of omega-3s in prematurely born babies from the Boston area (See "Fish Oil Saves "Premie” Babies’ Livers and Lives”).
As we described, premature infants—so-called "premies”—and adults with serious intestinal dysfunctions must receive intravenous liquid nutrition called total parenteral nutrition or TPN. However, prolonged use of TPN damages an infant’s liver, because the omega-6 fatty acid (linoleic acid) used in standard TPN solutions—which dominates our most common cooking oils as well—causes fat to accumulate in the liver.
Based on successful experiments in rodents, doctors at Children's Hospital Boston who were trying to save a premie baby on TPN wanted to try using a TPN formula featuring an omega-3-rich fat component (Omegaven®) in place of the standard, omega-6-rich fat component (Intralipid®).
Omegaven wasn't yet approved for use in the U.S. (and still isn’t) so they had to request special permission from the Food and Drug Administration and the hospital’s institutional review board, which agreed to let them try.
While the child—who is now two years old—still receives TPN, he no longer needs a liver transplant. So far, 21 patients at Children's Hospital in Boston have received Omegaven as the fat portion of their TPN under FDA compassionate-use exceptions, and most have done equally well. (Two died from unrelated causes, and if they'd been on standard TPN formula, many more would have succumbed to liver failure or required transplants.)
Reader’s response made our month
In response to our article, we received this gratifying email from reader Alexandra Moffat, which made our day, week, and month!
"My daughter is an RN in an ICN (Intensive Care Neonatal - preemies). I forwarded to her your article about Omegaven and omega-3 use in preventing liver failure in premature infants. She then forwarded it to one of the chief M.D. neonatologists. He was unaware but interested and forwarded the information to other MDs in the ICN: presumably the use of omega 3 will come soon to this teaching hospital in New Hampshire.
"I wanted to thank you for keeping the public aware of news like this and also thought you should know that VC may very likely take some credit for saving lives with public service like this!”
We were grateful to receive Ms. Moffat’s kind letter, but all credit for any positive effects of our article belongs to the intrepid medical team at Children's Hospital Boston. We can only hope that our coverage may do some good. To help ensure that it may, please forward this newsletter or the original story to anyone you know in the medical field: especially anyone who deals with pregnancies and babies!