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'Miracle gas' may reduce brain damage in newborn babies

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 3rd, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Birth asphyxia, where much needed oxygen is needed by babies at birth, often leads to damage. It affects one to two newborn babies out of a 1,000 in developed nations. Now, a "miracle gas," which occurs naturally in the air may help reduce the incidence of brain damage in newborns.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Called Xenon, the gas is already using the gas as an anesthetic. Doctors are now using it in an effort to protect babies starved of oxygen at birth.

In response, Britain's Medical Research Council is funding the world's first trial of its kind into the benefits of xenon on at-risk infants.

Treatment is currently being offered at three London hospitals; University College Hospital, Evelina Children's Hospital and Queen Charlotte's, as well as Liverpool Women's Hospital.
 
Newborn babies who suffer birth asphyxia risk moderate to severe conditions ranging from learning difficulties to cerebral palsy.

Among the many causes are when the placenta, which provides the fetus with nutrients in the womb comes apart, or when the umbilical cord gets wrapped around the baby's neck and infection.

Until now, doctors have used a technique to cool the body temperature of babies by a few degrees. This is successful in lowering the risk of brain injury in about half of cases. Experts now believe that adding xenon treatment to cooling could double success rates.

Brain cells are extremely sensitive to oxygen deprivation and begin to die rapidly. Inhaled xenon gas treatment is understood to stop areas of the brain "dying" by penetrating the cells and reviving them.

The trial is led by Professor Denis Azzopardi, a pediatric specialist at London's Imperial College. "Birth asphyxia occurs in one or two out of 1,000 deliveries in developed countries and may have lifelong implications for the children and their families," one of colleagues Dr. Andrew Kapetanakis says.

"We are trying to discover if new treatments can be added to cooling to improve outcomes."

The aim is to study at least 70 babies as part of the 18-month trial.

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