HOW DO WE REDUCE BRAIN DAMAGE IN NEWBORNS?
Lower their temperature.
Professor David Edwards, Director of the Centre for the Developing Brain, and his group have developed the very first treatment that successfully reduces death and brain damage after birth asphyxia and premature birth. This simple, drug-free treatment was approved for use throughout the NHS by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence in 2011, and is now in use throughout the world.
The treatment involves precise reduction in the baby’s body temperature for three days starting immediately when an infant is born. The results have been astounding; studies have shown that the treatment doubles the chances of children surviving free of physical and mental disability.
The success of this technique gives proof of concept that brain damage can be treated and was an incredible breakthrough. Previously it was thought that once the damage had been done, there was no chance of reversal. Now that we know therapy can be effective, it will help us pursue new therapies.
The cooling technique is relatively simple and cost-effective, however to develop it involved advanced laboratory and clinical research techniques, employing cutting-edge science that took years to develop. The proof of concept that brain damage can be treated has moved the goalposts. It has made it possible to expect rapid progress in reducing the number of children and families devastated by the death of a baby at birth, cerebral palsy or other forms of permanent brain damage.
At the Centre for the Developing Brain, David Edwards’ group is developing and testing new treatments to increase the effectiveness of cooling and other treatments to reduce brain-damage in premature births. Treatments currently being tested include the use of Xenon, a gas which has shown surprising and powerful effects at reversing brain damage, and a hormone treatment which has been found to have excellent effects and may be particularly suitable for reducing the damage associated with prematurity.
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