Birth asphyxia – predicting long-term effects | Children's Charity

Birth asphyxia – predicting long-term effects

Project LeaderDr B Vollmer PhD
Project team
  • Dr C J Edmonds BSc PhD
  • Dr C M Cornforth BSc Hons PhD
  • Dr J-D Tournier PhD
  • Dr A Darekar PhD MIPEM
  • Dr R M Pickering BSc MSc PhD Cstat
LocationClinical Neurosciences, University of Southampton
Other locations
  • School of Psychology, University of East London
  • Department of Women's and Children's Health, University of Liverpool
  • Department of Biomedical Engineering, King's College London
  • Medical Physics, University Hospital Southampton
  • Primary Care and Population Sciences, University of Southampton
Duration3 years
Grant awarded20 November 2018
Provisional start date1 February 2019
Provisional end date31 January 2022
Grant amount£180,783.00
Grant codeGN2759

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Problems around the time of birth can sometimes cause a baby’s brain to be deprived of oxygen, a condition known as birth asphyxia. This, in turn, can result in a form of brain damage called hypoxic-ischaemic encephalopathy (HIE). HIE is estimated to affect 15 in every 10,000 babies born, leading to around 1,000 new cases each year in the UK.  Sadly, some of these babies will die and others develop lifelong disabilities such as cerebral palsy. Therapeutic hypothermia, or “cooling therapy”, reduces death and neurodisability, and is now standard treatment for HIE. These researchers have studied a large group of children who received cooling therapy and survived without developing severe cerebral palsy. They found that, despite having had a good response to cooling therapy soon after birth, these children have an increased risk of learning and behavioural problems at the age of two years. In this study, they plan to follow-up the same group, now aged between six and eight years, to gain a better understanding of the long-term effects of HIE on brain development, learning and behaviour.

The research project

The team already has magnetic resonance imaging scans of the babies’ brains taken around the time of birth and data from routine assessments performed at 12 and 18 months. They want to repeat the scans and carry out learning and behavioural measurements to assess school progress, social skills and quality of life in the children, now aged six to eight years. They will compare their findings to a group of children who did not have HIE, of similar age, sex and background. Currently information is lacking on the long-term brain development and outlook for children who survive HIE. The researchers hope to establish if MRI scans at birth combined with routine assessments in early childhood can predict how these children will progress as they go through school. This project will provide much needed information on brain development and outcomes for children with HIE who underwent “brain cooling”, and who did not develop severe cerebral palsy. It could help identify those children who would benefit from early intervention and enable improved counselling and support, both at school and in everyday life.

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