Every 10 minutes a baby with a hole in their diaphragm and abnormal lung development is born somewhere around the world. This disease is called congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH). As a pediatric surgeon, I close the diaphragmatic defect with an operation, but the babies struggle with breathing after their operation, because of the abnormal lung development. In 2010 we started our MIRACLA research program at the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba - Biology of Breathing Theme.
We study the abnormal lung development associated with CDH. We have discovered that two minuscule gene regulators, called microRNAs, play a significant role in the abnormal lung development before babies with CDH are born. microRNAs regulate gene expression analogous to light dimmer switches: instead of turning genes on and off, microRNAs cause temporary changes in the expression of hundreds of genes.
Currently, our laboratory focuses on the role of two microRNAs: miR-10a and miR-200b during normal and abnormal lung development due to CDH. Our first studies show that babies with higher levels of these microRNAs have better lungs and better outcomes than babies with lower levels. We want to capitalize on this discovery and explore methods to use these microRNAs as a prenatal therapy to improve the abnormal lung development before these babies are even born. We firmly believe that a better understanding of the abnormal lung development in CDH will help us to search for therapies to positively influence the abnormal prenatal lung development and improve the outcome in babies with this devastating disease.