Partial Brain Injury Reversal 'Possible In Babies'

Scientists Believe They May Have Made A Breakthrough

27.12.2013

US researchers who have published their paper in the latest edition of the Nature journal believe they may have found a way to partially reverse brain damage in premature babies.

In a project led by Vittorio Gallo, scientists conducted experiments on mice to replicate the impact of oxygen starvation on a newborn child and then attempted to reverse the damage by stimulating brain receptors, reports The Age (Melbourne).

Poor lung development means that more than half of very premature babies are born with diffuse white matter and this presents a number of difficulties in terms of development.

Not only are those with these types of brain injuries more susceptible to an early death, but they also face long-term learning difficulties if they make it through the first few years of their life, meaning any breakthrough in terms of reversing this damage will be welcomed across the world.

Zsuzsoka Kecskes, a neonatal specialist at Canberra Hospital, was excited about the research, but cautioned that the method used by professor Gallo and his team has been linked to cancer in the past.

Speaking to the Age, Dr Kecskes said: "It [the research defines a bit more where the lack of oxygen can cause damage and how we might be able to prevent it in the far future.

"The white matter is very important for co-ordination so, when these children grow up, they may have cerebral palsy or mental impairment or blindness, but much more common are more subtle deficiencies."

In the UK, one in nine babies spend at least a few days in a neonatal unit, around 80,000 per year.

But while most of these infants go on to live completely normal lives and are not affected by developmental issues, parents are often still very worried about the potential issues that could arise during this period.

Prime Minister David Cameron pledged in the 2010 election to make improved neonatal care a priority for the NHS, but opposition figures claim services have faced funding cuts - something the coalition denies.

Expert Opinion
The research carried out by scientists in America may be important in the understanding and development of treatment for brain injuries.

"If doctors are able to treat patients at such a young age to either improve or reverse the symptoms of damage to the brain, this could be a big step towards major advancements in this area of medical expertise.

"Brain injuries or any type of head injury have to be treated very seriously, as they are often misunderstood and can result in not only physical problems, but emotional and psychological issues."
Neil Whiteley, Partner