Mention the term blood doping and sports scandals immediately come to mind.

But now researchers at Seattle Children's are using something calledEPO to try to save young lives.

EPO is the same banned hormone that brought down Lance Armstrong and other elite athletes. It works by increasing red blood cells.

They were onto something, weren't they? said Dr. Sandra Juul, Seattle Children's.

And now Dr. Juul plans to use that same hormone for a more noble cause: to give the littlest preemies better odds in the race just to stay alive, to stay healthy, which all the medical advancements to date haven't been able to achieve.

This group of tiny babies still has about 20% mortality, 20% have severe neurological impairment, which means Cerebral palsy, or mental impairment, deafness or blindness, and 20 percent have moderate impairment, said Dr. Juul.

That amounts to 60% bad outcomes for babies born at 28 weeks or younger, the beginning of the third trimester - a period when their brains are still growing and expected to increase fivefold. Forty weeks is full term. So far, animal testing has been encouraging.

It's a very powerful protector from brain injury and now we're transitioning to see if it works in the same way in humans, said Dr. Juul.

EPO isn't new for infants.

It's been used to treat anemia for the last 25 years, so it's a drug that's available and it's FDA approved. If we show benefit, it can easily be rolled out to treat preemies across the country, said Dr. Juul.

The goal is to give preemies a much needed edge to cheat death and disability.

Dr. Juul hopes to enroll almost 1,000 patients in this nationwide trial, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

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