Breakthrough research carried out by the Fetal and Neonatal Research Centre, the Infant Centre, at Cork University Maternity Hospital and University College Cork has developed a technique for the early detection of birth related brain injury, which affects hundreds of babies in Ireland every year. Unfortunately, each year, lack of oxygen to the brain at birth affects 200 babies in Ireland and results in death or disability in two million infants around the world.  The condition, known as Hypoxia Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) causes damage to the brain due to lack of oxygen, leaving newborns with permanent neurological damage or cerebral palsy. HIE can be difficult to detect in newborns.

Scientists at the Infant Centre identified two biochemical signals that can be used in the detection of such injuries.  The research found new blood biomarkers in the umbilical cord that may detect brain injury in newborn babies which could provide an early detection system for the condition of HIE.  Early intervention in neonatal brain injury is absolutely vital.  Brain cooling therapy reduces brain injury in newborns and improves outcomes if started immediately.  Research indicates that almost 90% of newborns who underwent brain cooling therapy in Irish hospitals survived. 

The findings are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).  The research found the involvement of two mirco RNAS in HIE, which are strands of genetic code, and are found throughout the body.  The researchers found them to be widely present in umbilical cord blood, but significantly decreased in newborns with HIE.  This may well provide the first early warning signal that significant injury has occurred and help doctors decide which infants to transfer to a cooling centre for treatment.  Consultant Pediatrician, Professor Deirdre Murray, who led the research involving 170 newborn babies from Ireland and Sweden, described the results as “very promising”.  The study was funded by the Health Research Board and the National Childrens Research Center and is the result of almost ten years of research in the area of early brain injury. 

Check out our Brain and Head Injury Fact Sheet link for more information.

Ronan Hynes, Partner commented on the research as follows “This is potentially a very significant development which in time may help medical professionals detect neonatal brain injury much sooner and provide them with the most appropriate method of treatment at the earliest opportunity with consequent better outcomes”.

Should you have any queries in relation to the above, please contact Ronan Hynes, Partner in the Litigation Dispute Resolution Department at 061 432 348 or by email at rhynes@sellors.ie.

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