Scientists are exploring a new target for treating both barrier leakiness and fluid buildup that, in lab animals and early human trials, seems to restore tight barriers and fluid clearance so we can breathe.

Fluid follows sodium and the investigators are targeting ENaC-alpha, a subunit of natural channels that mediate sodium uptake and play a role in fluid movement, says Dr. Rudolf Lucas, vascular biologist at the Vascular Biology Center at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.

Lucas and his colleagues propose ENaC-alpha also has a role as a signaling molecule that tightens barrier function in the air sacs and tiny capillaries of our lungs when pneumonia-causing bacteria make both leaky.