Worldwide, almost a million under-fives die each year because they have been starved of oxygen around the time of birth. Those who do survive ‘birth asphyxia’ can have learning, memory and behavioural problems at school, and long-term disabilities.
A groundbreaking cooling therapy is already helping babies who suffer birth asphyxia, but this does not help all infants. Only one in every eight babies treated is saved from dying or developing a disability, so more research is needed.
Scientists believe giving these babies a sedative called
dexmedetomidine may improve their chances. Dr Nicola Robertson, who has been central to the development of cooling therapy, is leading a team who will test the safety and effectiveness of this drug. If the results are positive, the team hopes to run clinical trials in newborns soon.