Helping Give Premature Babies A Brighter Future | Action Medical Research

Helping Give Premature Babies A Brighter Future

22 November 2001
Scottish researchers are hoping to help give premature babies a better start in life, thanks to a new cash boost. The team of scientists, based at the University of Edinburgh, are looking at ways to reduce the incidence of brain injury among newborn babies born too early for comfort. As many as one in ten babies are born prematurely, many of which are likely to need intensive care. One in 100 are born very early, as much as 13 weeks or more. Although valuable progress has been made in our ability to treat these tiny patients, a significant proportion of them suffer brain injuries, putting them at risk of developing cerebral palsy, behavioural difficulties and learning problems. Thanks to more than £65,000 in funding from leading medical research charity, Action Research - which has made many breakthroughs in childhood disease and disability - the new study will look at the affect of fluctuations in oxygen levels. When premature babies are born, they often have difficulty breathing because of their immature lungs, and are placed on ventilators. However, the oxygen concentrations they receive are variable, despite best efforts to control it. Leading the new study, Dr Kofi Sedowofia says: ‘Although oxygen is essential for survival, initial studies have suggested that fluctuations in the level of oxygen might be harmful to the developing brain.’ The two-year project will investigate the effects of these fluctuations by using a model developed in the laboratory, with the aim of further improving intensive care for premature babies. The study is further commitment from the charity into looking at how oxygen levels might affect the long-term health of premature babies. The charity is already funding researchers at the University of Edinburgh to improve our understanding the mechanisms that could lead to potentially blinding eye disease. Professor Neil McIntosh, of The Neonatology Section, and who is working on both Action Research studies, hopes to gain a greater understanding of how oxygen levels can interfere with the normal development of the retina and lead to the disease called Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP). This is a condition said to be on the increase due to more babies surviving extreme prematurity than ever before and affects the growth of blood vessels in baby’s underdeveloped retinas. John Grounds, director of campaigns and communications says: ‘As many as 70,000 babies are born each year too early for comfort. Those who overcome the problems that this early arrival causes, do so because of advances in medical science. ‘Others die because we do not have the knowledge to save them, or to prevent premature birth. This new project will hopefully help give babies better targeted treatment and therefore a better start in life.’ Action Research is committed to helping people of all ages overcome disease and disability. The charity’s Touching Lives Campaign aims to raise £2m for vital medical research and more details can be found at For further information and interviews, please contact Nicole Duckworth in the Action Research press office on 01403 327403 Fax: 01403 210541, or email ISDN facilities are available.
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