Pioneering new medical technique for premature babies with birth injuries

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A study has suggested that a new technique which 'flushes out' the brains of very ill premature babies may give them a better chance of survival.

Premature babies are at a very high risk of suffering head injuries at birth due to their fragility. Many suffer from large haemorrhages due to the trauma of the birth process and these cause the brain and head to expand alarmingly – the condition is known as hydrocephalus.

The usual treatment for this brain injury at birth is to insert needles into the head or spine to remove the build up of fluid. This treatment for premature babies with hydrocephalus takes several months.

The new technique, which is carried out over just a few days, could benefit around 100 babies a year. It involves draining the fluid building up around the brain whilst introducing new fluid. By letting less fluid flow in than was drained out, the research seemed to show that pressure in the brain was reduced, allowing the haemorrhage bleeding to heal.

Many premature babies who suffer brain injury at birth do not survive, and those who do are often left disabled. However, one of the first babies to receive the pioneering new treatment was Isaac Walker-Cox, now 9 years old. When he was born 13 weeks early he was given a 1% chance of survival. Now he lives life to the full with only some mild paralysis and is described as an "outgoing, happy little boy".

Paediatric neurosurgeon Ian Pople, one of the lead researchers on the study, said: "This is the first time that any treatment anywhere in the world has been shown to benefit these very vulnerable babies."

Several hundred children in Britain are affected by haemorrhages every year and about half develop hydrocephalus.

But the results of the study are encouraging. Though some premature babies born with brain injuries are still left with severe mental disability or other impairment, the majority seem to recover better and faster with the new technique.

It is to be hoped that the new technique will soon be used by the NHS to give premature babies with brain injuries the very best chances of survival.

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