Birth injury brain damage newly treatable, say researchers

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Academic research from Sweden suggests new ways may soon be available to treat brain damage in newborn children.

birth injuriesBirth asphyxia, where a baby's brain is starved of oxygen during delivery, can cause irreparable brain damage, leading to lifelong handicaps such as epilepsy, cerebral palsy and mental retardation.

Since brain damage can take some hours or days to evolve, physicians have a "therapeutic window" for treatment, which often involves cooling the infant: a procedure some believe reduces the risk of lasting problems.

However, cooling only actually helps 1 infant in 9 and cannot be administered to premature babies.

In a doctoral thesis, Ylva Carlsson of the University of Gothenburg has sought a new treatment that can be used both in combination with cooling therapy and to help children where cooling is not an option.

Mapping the role played by an enzyme in the development of brain damage in infants who suffer from birth asphyxia, Dr Carlsson said: "The results show that a reduction in the amount of this enzyme also reduces the extent of the brain damage. Added protection is given if cooling therapy is used too."

Dr Carlsson has also shown that the mechanisms behind brain damage vary according to the age of the brain. Basing her findings on a study of mice, the researcher warned that a treatment that can protect adults can increase the damage in babies.

"This may mean that some drugs developed for brain damage in adults should probably not be given to newborn babies," she said. "Tailor-made treatments targeting specific brain damage mechanisms and combination treatments for children may therefore be the way forward."

"But first we need to look more closely at how best to control these proteins without disrupting other key functions in the growing brain."

Neil Fearn, Birth Injury Specialist at Simpson Millar LLP said the Swedish findings are promising. "The more we know about infant brain damage due to birth injuries the better," he said. "But for now it's vital that parents and physicians of infants who have suffered birth asphyxia continue with tested therapies, such as maintaining normal blood pressure and blood glucose levels, controlling seizures and preventing the build up of water in the baby's brain."


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