Neonatologist Dr. Michael Weiss of the University of Florida in Gainesville has been pioneering a new technique that can greatly reduce complications in newborns with brain injuries from lack of oxygen at birth. He and his colleagues have just completed an 18-month study of the technique, part of coordinated research at academic hospitals nationwide.
Used for newborns who have sustained a mild to moderate brain injury due to oxygen deprivation or low blood supply, the technique involves wrapping the baby in a special blanket constructed with cold water tubes inside. The blanket cools the baby’s body temperature to about 91 degrees, slowing the body systems, reducing energy requirements and reducing swelling in the brain.
The technique has been shown to reduce the risk of cerebral palsy, seizures and death in newborns with moderate brain injuries, as well as to result in improved vision and cognitive and motor skills.
“What it does is it decreases the amount of cerebral edema, or swelling, around the brain. It can also decrease cell death and decrease the release of excitatory factors, which can cause brain injury. It also decreases the inflammation that’s typically seen after brain injury,” Dr. Weiss told Ivanhoe Broadcast News recently.
Four Out of Every 1,000 Babies Born in the U.S. Suffer Brain Injuries
Brain injuries caused by oxygen deprivation can occur because of a number of different complications at birth. For example, the placenta may separate prematurely, the umbilical cord may become wrapped around the child’s neck, or the cord can come out before the baby is actually born. These types of birth injuries may be unavoidable or due to medical malpractice.
Infant asphyxia can cause cerebral palsy, cognitive and motor problems, blindness and developmental problems.
“Before the cooling blanket, we really didn’t have any therapies that were brain-specific, so before, we would just provide supportive care for these babies. By cooling the babies, it actually decreases the amount of brain injury these babies have,” said Dr. Weiss.
“I really thought it was going to be some high-end, high-tech procedure,” one mother whose child was helped by the procedure told Ivanhoe. “It amazes me that something like that could save or help you know a little baby’s life.”
The therapy is currently available at major medical centers. Dr. Weiss is working to develop a statewide therapy protocol in Florida, and to promote the technique nationwide.
“One of the biggest things that I think we offer the parents in this case is hope,” said Dr. Weiss.
“Cooling blanket helping to save babies from brain damage” (Ivanhoe Broadcast News/WNDU-TV, Jun 8, 2010)