THURSDAY, Aug. 13, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- A new hormone treatment to prevent brain damage in oxygen-deprived newborns shows promise, a study has found.
Currently, immediate cooling is the only way to reduce the risk of brain damage in newborns who suffered oxygen deprivation during delivery. The new method, which can be started as late as two days after birth, involves a two-week course of injections of erythropoietin, a hormone that stimulates red blood cell formation, the researchers explained.
The new study included more than 150 newborns with moderate to severe hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) at birth. About half of them received small doses of erythropoietin every other day. The neurological condition of all the children was assessed when they were 18 months old.
"Only half as many of the children treated with erythropoietin had developed a severe neurological functional disability or had died of their injuries. Thus the hormone treatment improves the prognosis considerably in the longer perspective," Klas Blomgren, professor of pediatrics at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg and Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Sweden, said in a university news release.
But only children with moderate HIE benefited from the hormone treatment, according to the study in the August issue of the journal Pediatrics.
"We believe that erythropoietin has a regenerative and stimulating effect on recovery and on brain development following the injury," Blomgren said. "This appears to be a safe treatment, almost without side effects, and it is also cheaper and technically simpler to administer in comparison with cooling. This means that the treatment can be given a wide distribution, and can be used even in developing countries."
The Children's National Medical Center explains the process of whole-body cooling in newborns.