Headline Aug 01, 2015/ '''THE MYSTERIES OF BIRTH AND BREATH '''



AMERICA'S BEST DOCTORS could not save Patrick Kennedy, born five weeks early in 1963 to  John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie.
In those years, premature birth was often a death sentence. The baby's lungs would be like small blobs of liver, unable or scarcely able to inflate.

Dr Mont Liggins  a New Zealander, was determined to understand why such births occurred, and how to prevent them.

He had first got hooked on the subject in the late 1940s at the end of his clinical training at Auckland hospital. He was not, in his own mind a natural doctor, being far keener on skiing, golf and fun.

But family pressure had induced him to follow his father into medicine, and he began to be fascinated by the difficulties of birth.

And his pursuit led to some of the most important discoveries in obstetrics, and the saving of hundreds and thousands of tiny, angelic, struggling lives.

Squeezing his research into evenings after long days delivering babies, he began by questioning the theory,  held since Aristotle, that the mother's body instigated labour. He read of animals with prolonged pregnancies whose fetuses lacked a pituitary gland.

This sent him to animal research station in Ruakura  among the sheep, and there, in an unsterile theatre, he began with much trial and error to remove the pituitary glands of unborn lambs. 

That surgery as he discovered later with huge excitement, delayed the onset of labour. It was the fetus therefore, not the mother, that determined when the labour started.

A stint at the University of California had consolidated those findings. Back in Auckland, though, money was tight.

Dr Liggins patched together a laboratory for himself in a condemned shed, no thing of beauty, but quite adequate: the sort of place he had haunted as a small boy in the small gold-rush town of Thames in North Island-

Where he had squeezed down abandoned mine shafts and made his gang headquarters in derelict wooden huts, staying overnight in the creepy Kauri forest to feast on sausages and chocolate.

In his shed, treading with care to avoid the rotting floorboards, he continued his research into fetal lambs. Having removed their pituitaries, he then infused the lambs with cortisol, a hormone indirectly produced by that gland. 

Each time the ewe gave birth two days later. The signal for labour, at least in sheep, had been revealed.

Then serendipity stepped in. One morning Dr Liggins discovered that a lamb he had infused with cortisol had been born overnight. It was so premature that its lungs should have been uninflatable, yet it was breathing. He realised that the cortisol had caused its lungs to mature early.

in 1972, with his colleague Ross Howie, he carried out a trial in which synthetic cortisol was given to women in premature labour. Amazingly, it reduced by half the number of babies dying.

The treatment was cheap, too. Two or four inexpensive injections saved tens of thousands of dollars in hospital costs and care in handicapped infants.

He delved further into lung development, spending his study leave in 1971 in a lab in the old Radcliffe observatory in Oxford. 

In the late 1970s his researches took him to McMurdo base in the Antarctic. There, by dint of putting multiple tubes and probes into Weddell seals, sitting hours over ice holes or slowly dunking their heads in water to simulate dives-

He and other scientists tried to learn how seals held their breath for so long, and how pregnant females provided their fetuses with sufficient oxygen. 

Honours accrued around him : a fellowship of the Royal Society in 1980, a knighthood in 1991. But, to his lasting frustration, he never unravelled the the mystery of what triggers labour in humans.

It is mysterious still.

Obstetricians can delay labour for only around two days  -but that is just long enough, as he discovered, for cortisol to expand those tiny lungs into life.

With respectful dedication to the Students, Professors and Teachers of New Zealand. See Ya all on !WOW!   -the World Students Society Computers-Internet-Wireless:

''' Magnificent Mysteries '''

Good Night and God bless

SAM Daily Times - the Voice of the Voiceless


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