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Study: “Brain Cooling” After Birth May Reduce Newborns’ Risk of Cerebral Palsy

For thousands of infants, birth asphyxia can be a devastating condition – leading to either permanent brain damage, or death. Recent technology, however, including brain cooling and xenon gas, may begin to up these infants’ odds of surviving.

Cooling infant brains, improving survival rates

According to a study conducted by Imperial College in London, “brain cooling” after birth may drastically improve hypoxic infants’ survival rates. Infants whose brains were “cooled” had a 25 percent greater survival rate than those who didn’t.

Brain cooling therapy – usually applied as a “coolcap” hat filled with water – greatly helps reduce brain swelling. It also lowers the body’s metabolic rate, which in turn allows healthy organ functioning with less oxygen.

Extensive research behind pediatric brain cooling

“Our 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,” said Dr. Denis Azzopardi, who headed the study. “[Brain cooling] is not a new concept. The rationale is relatively simple. But of all the treatments for brain damage tried, cooling has proved the most effective.”

The concept of brain cooling, according to an article in London’s Independent newspaper, was first tried out on soldiers in the 19th century. It was later used as a means to resuscitate infants in the 1950s (by plunging them into cold water).

Helping hypoxic brain injuries

Xenon gas technology may also help at-risk hypoxic babies survive, according to a recent BBC report. Combined with brain cooling, the administration of xenon gas may help restore babies’ respiratory systems.

“The xenon/hypothermia combination…confers greater protection than either treatment alone,” said a recent NIH report. “[It] is an attractive combination therapy..to improve the otherwise bleak outcome from neonatal Hypoxic/Ischemic [brain injury].”

Given the prevalence of birth asphyxia cases in the U.S. and abroad, and their devastating consequences, I strongly support research in this emerging field.

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