Thanks to recent research findings, a new treatment to prevent brain damage among newborn infants may soon be available.
Health experts at the Sahlgrenska Academy and Sahlgrenska University Hospital, who carried out the research with collaborators from Zhengzhou University in China, say that the new treatment can be started as late as two days after birth.
They have revealed that the new treatment involves newborn infants being given a two-week course of injections of erythropoietin, a hormone that stimulates the formation of red blood cells.
"For the first time we can demonstrate that it is possible to influence the brain damage occurring as a result of oxygen deprivation during delivery considerably later than the six-hour window of opportunity for treating with cooling," says Klas Blomgren, professor of paediatrics at the Sahlgrenska Academy and specialist at Queen Silvia Children's Hospital.
The research findings are the result of cooperation between Swedish, Austrian and Chinese researchers.
The study treated just over 150 term newborn infants, half of whom were given small doses of erythropoietin every other day. Once the children reached the age of 18 months, their neurological condition was assessed.
"Only half as many of the children treated with erythropoietin had developed a severe neurological functional disability or had died of their injuries. Thus the hormone treatment improves the prognosis considerably in the longer perspective," says Blomgren.
The children in the study had suffered moderate or severe hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) at birth, but it was only children with moderate HIE that were helped by this hormone treatment.
"We believe that erythropoietin has a regenerative and stimulating effect on recovery and on brain development following the injury. This appears to be a safe treatment, almost without side effects, and it is also cheaper and technically simpler to administer in comparison with cooling. This means that the treatment can be given a wide distribution, and can be used even in developing countries," says Blomgren.
A research article describing the study has been published in the journal Pediatrics.