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Premature baby brain injury ‘may be treatable’

Study could offer hope in preventing cerebral palsy, say researchers

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Brain injury in extremely premature babies may be treatable even well after birth, new groundbreaking research has found. 

Such brain injury can cause conditions like cerebral palsy, and clinical studies have shown that severe injury can appear many weeks after birth in premature babies. 

But now, through research from the University of Auckland, the potential has been raised that brain injury in pre-term babies might be treatable – something hailed as “revolutionary” by the team. 

“The current thinking is that this form of brain injury is so severe that there is no point trying to understand it, let alone treat it,” says senior research fellow Dr Christopher Lear, lead author on the new study. 

“Just the concept that it might be treatable is revolutionary.”

Dr Christopher Lear

In an animal model, researchers found intense local inflammation before the injury developed.

Giving the well-established anti-inflammatory drug, Etanercept (also known as ‘Enbrel’) three days after a period of oxygen deprivation was able to almost completely prevent severe injury from developing after three weeks’ recovery.

“Virtually all proposed treatments so far need to be started within the first six hours of life,” says Professor Laura Bennet. 

“This is often not realistic when families are overwhelmed by events around birth.

“A therapeutic window of at least three days is exceptionally long.”

This study offers hope for one day preventing cerebral palsy, says Professor Bennet.

“Much more research is needed before this approach can be tested in humans, but this remarkably wide window for treatment gives us real hope that these findings will one day lead to a new treatment in humans to prevent cerebral palsy,” she says. 

HIWIN

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