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Sharp Health News

Unlocking the mysteries of the newborn brain

June 4, 2021

Preserving brain function in newborns

In a study aimed at giving newborn babies the best possible start in life within minutes of birth, researchers hope to improve techniques for protecting neurologic function in babies at risk for cerebral palsy and other disorders.

In late 2015, the Neonatal Research Institute (NRI) at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns began a brain monitoring study on premature infants to accurately identify which babies may need further medical interventions to prevent brain damage, and get it to them fast.

The research efforts led by Dr. Anup Katheria, director of the NRI, and his staff, involved monitoring a baby’s brain activity within the first 10 minutes of life by placing small electrodes on the infant’s forehead. They found that this technique provides more accurate information about how much oxygen gets delivered to the brain than the traditional method, which involves using heart rate as a marker to judge whether a baby’s brain is functioning properly.

“Previously, we didn’t have a way to directly see whether brain function had been affected,” says Dr. Katheria. “Heart rate is an imperfect predictor. It’s possible to miss some babies who need treatment, and treat babies who don’t really need it. By better understanding how the brain works right after birth, we have the ability to know for sure when something’s not right and open our toolbox of interventions earlier.”

Among these interventions are methods such as delayed cord clamping, umbilical cord milking and therapeutic cooling. Delayed cord clamping and umbilical cord milking allow infants to receive additional cord blood at birth. Prior research at the NRI has shown this to improve blood pressure and reduce the risk of bleeding in the brain. With therapeutic cooling, the core body temperature of the baby is brought down using a special cooling blanket. This method slows the production of harmful substances in the brain and the rate of brain cell death.

Dr. Katheria and his team monitored 127 babies and followed up with them until two years of age.

“We know that what we do within the first few minutes of life can help make sure the right babies are getting the right care — and can improve health for the rest of a child’s life. That’s really compelling,” says Dr. Katheria.

For the news media: To speak with Dr. Katheria about neonatal research for an upcoming story, contact Senior Public Relations Specialist Erica Carlson at erica.carlson@sharp.com.

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