Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a very common virus that causes infections of the lungs and airways. It is a major cause of respiratory illness in young children.
Cells from an infant's nose are remarkably similar to those found in the lungs, suggested a new research from the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC). This discovery could lead to much more precise diagnosis of respiratory syncytial virus and other infant lung disease.
The study, published in Scientific Reports, provides a potential avenue for diagnosis that has challenged physicians for years, as infants with respiratory disease are usually so fragile that attempting to obtain lung samples is unsafe.
"An infant with RSV could potentially have their nasal cells tested to determine if they are among the small group that will develop a severe response that might require hospitalization," said Thomas Mariani, professor of Pediatrics at URMC. "Additionally, we could potentially use this method to examine other at-risk infants, such as those born prematurely who face a greater risk for lung disease throughout life - and identify which of those children should be treated more aggressively."
The research also carries tremendous promise for future studies. While scientists have made significant progress over the past several decades to better understand adult lung diseases - such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung fibrosis - discovery has not been nearly as robust for infant diseases, due to the risks involved in securing lung tissue.
But the relative ease of obtaining nasal cells could accelerate understanding of how infant lungs respond to RSV and other diseases. While this study examined 53 healthy infants as a means of establishing a benchmark for normal cell structure, researchers at URMC have already begun studying the nasal tissue of diseased infants. Early results are promising.
"We're actively working on studies in infants with lung diseases, and we're showing quite clearly that we can identify differences between those with mild disease and those with more severe outcomes," said Mariani, the study's lead author.