Magnesium sulfate is traditionally used in obstetrics to stop premature labor and prevent seizures in women with hypertension.
In the study involving 2,240 women who were likely to give birth before 32 weeks of gestation, administering magnesium sulfate considerably cut chances of developing cerebral palsy by almost half.
During the Beneficial Effects of Antenatal Magnesium Sulfate (BEAM) trial, half of the women intravenously received magnesium sulfate while the other half received a placebo.
The children, born to the women in the study were then examined at two-years-old
The findings revealed that the children in the magnesium group were 50 percent less likely to develop cerebral palsy compared to children in the placebo group.
"This is a substantial breakthrough in maternal fetal medicine that could positively impact the health of thousands of babies," said Alan Peaceman, MD, chair of the Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and an investigator in the study.
"After 10 years of studying the effects of magnesium sulfate, it has proven to be a successful method of reducing the outcome of cerebral palsy in premature births.
"Based on results of the study, in the future it is possible that women at risk of prematurely giving birth could proactively receive magnesium sulfate to reduce their child's chances of developing cerebral palsy," he added.
The study is published in the August 28 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.