New research suggests that brain damage caused by lack of oxygen at birth can be averted by applying a hi-tech version of an ice pack to the head. Cooling the brains of newborn babies deprived of oxygen dramatically improves the proportion who survive unharmed, two decades of research has shown.
In the study, boffins found full-term babies who suffered oxygen loss at birth were 57 percent more likely to survive without brain damage if their bodies were cooled, reports The BBC.
The study has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The babies' body temperature was brought down by about 4C using a fluid-filled mat under their sheet.
Dr Denis Azzopardi, from Imperial College London and who led the trial, said: "The study builds on a 20-year body of research but gives, for the first time, irrefutable proof that cooling can be effective in reducing brain damage after birth asphyxia.
"Although unfortunately it doesn't work in every case, our study showed the proportion of babies that survived without signs of brain damage went from 28 percent to 44 percent with cooling treatments - that's a 57 percent increase."
Half of the newborn babies had their body temperature reduced to 33-34C (91-93F) for 72 hours followed by gradual re-warming in intensive care. Normal body temperature is around 37C (98F).