Reducing disability in children | Action Medical Research

Reducing disability in children

6 March 2001
Newcastle researchers are leading pioneering work into the disabling condition, cerebral palsy, thanks to a cash injection by a leading medical research charity. Action Research, which endeavours to overcome many childhood diseases and disabilities, has donated more than £80,000 to experts at the city’s Royal Victoria Infirmary. Lead researcher Professor Janet Eyre, of the Sir James Spence Institute of Child Health is thrilled. She says: ‘This grant will enable us to continue our research into whether the developing brain can overcome damage by reorganisation of nerve pathways.’ Cerebral palsy, caused by brain damage, is a significant cause of life-long disability and currently affects one in 400 children. There are increasing numbers of babies affected by, and surviving with the disabling condition, primarily because of improved technology in intensive care -meaning more babies are surviving premature births but often with long-term complications. The severity of disability has also increased. An estimated 33% of cerebral palsy sufferers are not able to walk independently, with 23% developing severe manual disability such that they are incapable of feeding or dressing themselves. ‘It is clear that there is an urgent need to develop further understanding into how the brain develops. This may lead to new treatments to reduce the number of children who suffer from cerebral palsy’, Professor Eyre adds. There is said to be a critical period in people - before and after birth - where the brain reorganises itself to overcome damage. The aim of the project is to provide new insights into how the brain develops, and demonstrate whether, in some children, this reorganisation does occur. Researchers will be studying both the brain function in healthy babies, and children who have suffered a stroke as babies or in later childhood. The focus will be on upper limb control, because this area is important for communication and mobility aids, thereby having the greatest impact on quality of life. Action Research, which is famous for helping develop the UK’s first polio and rubella vaccine, has committed more than £250,000 to two other pioneering studies designed to relieve the disabling affects of cerebral palsy. One is investigating new treatments for stiff limbs, with the other trying to prevent hip dislocation. Action Research director of communications, John Grounds, says: ‘Cerebral Palsy is very common, but can often cause lifelong severe disability. If we gain a deeper understanding of the development of the brain we might help reduce unnecessary heartache for both children and parents.’ The charity, which is fast approaching its 50th anniversary, launched its Touching Lives campaign earlier this year, which aims to raise £2m for vital medical research to benefit children and families across the UK. Visit the website at For further information, please contact Nicole Duckworth in the Action Research press office on 01403 327403 Fax: 01403 210541, or email
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