A TREATMENT that recreates the liquid conditions in the womb has been developed by doctors in the United States for premature babies with underdeveloped lungs. In a trial being carried out at five US hospitals, the babies' lungs are filled with a special liquid saturated in dissolved oxygen, which diffuses easily into the blood, according to a report in New Scientist.

At present premature babies often suffer respiratory distress because their lungs lack surfactant, a substance that causes the air sacs in the lungs to open up and absorb oxygen. Treatment with artificial surfactant is not always successful and the use of ventilators to assist breathing can leave babies with lung damage.