Study May Bring a Breath of Fresh Air to Hypoxic Newborns

Posted on Apr 15, 2014

Everyone knows the feeling you get when you try to hold your breath for too long: your heart begins to race, you feel dizzy, your chest hurts, and depending on how long you hold it, you may even pass out in order to conserve necessary oxygen needed for your brain cells. However, once that stored oxygen is used up, your brain cells will literally begin to suffocate and die, causing brain damage.

Now imagine all of those feelings and resulting consequences happening to your unborn child during delivery. It’s almost too hard to imagine. Unfortunately, an estimated five out of every thousand newborns suffer some sort of brain damage from oxygen deprivation during delivery.

Many hospitals, including the leading critical care nursery at Georgetown University, treat newborn hypoxia with a type of "therapeutic hypothermia." This treatment tries to slow brain function down to allow it to heal itself. Although this method has proven to be effective in decreasing newborn fatalities and reducing developmental disabilities, it isn’t 100 percent effective.

Dr. Joanne Davidson, a research fellow at Auckland University, may have discovered a new treatment for newborn hypoxia that will help prevent damage and disabilities from being able to form in the first place.

Prevent the Damage From Spreading

Davidson’s study centers around blocking unhealthy or damaged cells from corrupting healthy cells. She uses a peptide, or a specific type of protein, to obstruct “death signals” coming from the inside of damaged cells, from passing to and corrupting nearby healthy cells.

In theory, this treatment has the potential to prevent much, if not all, brain damage associated with hypoxia and could be used in conjunction with therapeutic hypothermia for an unbeatable form of hypoxia treatment.

Davidson’s study is currently ongoing in order to thoroughly explore exact measurements of peptides, location placements, administering techniques and potential side effects of the method in order to get the best intended results. Hopefully, this method will help decrease newborn hypoxia damage in the near future, as well as inspire new treatments and preventions for birth-related brain injuries. We will watch future developments with interest.

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