Historical perspective on surfactant therapy: Transforming hyaline membrane disease to respiratory distress syndrome

Mikko Hallman*, Egbert Herting

*Corresponding author for this work
1 Citation (Scopus)


Lung surfactant is the first drug so far designed for the special needs of the newborn. In 1929, Von Neergard described lung hysteresis and proposed the role of surface forces. In 1955–1956, Pattle and Clements found direct evidence of lung surfactant. In 1959, Avery discovered that the airway's lining material was not surface-active in hyaline membrane disease (HMD). Patrick Bouvier Kennedy's death, among half-million other HMD-victims in 1963, stimulated surfactant research. The first large surfactant treatment trial failed in 1967, but by 1973, prediction of respiratory distress syndrome using surfactant biomarkers and promising data on experimental surfactant treatment were reported. After experimental studies on surfactant treatment provided insight in lung surfactant biology and pharmacodynamics, the first trials of surfactant treatment conducted in the 1980s showed a striking amelioration of severe HMD and its related deaths. In the 1990s, the first synthetic and natural surfactants were accepted for treatment of infants. Meta-analyses and further discoveries confirmed and extended these results. Surfactant development continues as a success-story of neonatal research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101493
JournalSeminars in Fetal and Neonatal Medicine
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 12.2023

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