Approximately 1 in 500 babies suffer from asphyxia, which can lead to brain injury, multiple disabilities or even death in severe cases. Around 25 per cent of babies who suffer from a moderate lack of oxygen at birth will develop cerebral palsy. There are currently no effective treatments to reduce the risk of asphyxia at birth, but recent small scale studies have found that lowering a baby's temperature may have beneficial effects.
UK researchers are to investigate whether lowering a newborn baby's temperature by a few degrees can prevent the complications caused by asphyxia. Asphyxia can be caused by a number of factors, including an obstruction to the baby's blood supply or detachment of the placenta, however, in many cases the cause cannot be identified.
On the strength of these studies, researchers from hospitals and other medical institutions across the UK, with funding from the Medical Research Council, plan to undertake extensive trials to find out conclusively if this type of treatment can lessen asphyxia's serious effects.
During the study, parents of more than 200 children suffering from asphyxia will be asked to allow their infants to take part in the trial. Half the children will have their temperature cooled for a period of three days before being slowly returned to normal. The cooling procedure will involve a water-filled bed and be carried out by a nurse. It will not cause the babies any discomfort, and the infants will be closely monitored at all times.