Testing a cool way to prevent brain damage

by Mike Miller
Testing a cool way to prevent brain damage

Scientists are preparing a clinical trial to see if lowering a baby’s temperature after birth could reduce the risk of brain damage if the baby suffers from a lack of oxygen.

Sometimes during delivery the blood supply to the baby is blocked, or the placenta detaches from the mother before the baby is using its lungs to breathe. Sometimes the reason why a baby does not receive enough oxygen during delivery is unknown. The possible effects of insufficient oxygen (asphyxia), however, are well documented. A quarter of all babies suffering moderate asphyxia at birth develop cerebral palsy, and almost all babies who suffer severe asphyxia die or develop multiple disabilities.

Research conducted by a team from Imperial College, London, suggests that cooling a baby for a few days after asphyxiation may reduce the onset of brain damage.

With parents’ consent researchers will monitor 200 babies who have suffered asphyxiation at birth. Half of these babies will be treated as normal; the other half will be nursed for three days on a water-cooled mattress. The mattress keeps a baby’s temperature at 3-4 degrees lower than normal.

The researchers will assess the babies when they are discharged and at 18 months to determine whether the asphyxiation has caused any long-term damage. By comparing results between the two groups the scientists hope to discover whether cooling has any long-term preventative benefits.

Project leader Dr Denis Azzopardi is looking to make recommendations to paediatricians. “If the trial shows that this is an effective treatment for asphyxia, we’ll be recommending that baby-cooling should be adopted into clinical practice in the NHS. If it’s shown not to be effective, indiscriminate use of the technique will be discouraged.”