Cooling a newborn for three days on a temperature-controlled blanket can help prevent or reduce brain damage caused by lack of oxygen during difficult births, a national study has found.
When the brain lacks enough oxygen, it sparks a cascade of harmful chemical reactions that can inflict further damage even after oxygen has been restored, Reuters reports.
The research, published in today's New England Journal of Medicine, provides hope for babies deprived of oxygen in the first six hours of life. Newborns with that complication, which occurs in fewer than one in 1,000 U.S. births, die more often or face significant mental and physical disabilities, including cerebral palsy, mental retardation, blindness and hearing loss. From 60,000 to 80,000 of the 4 million babies born in the United States each year are at high risk of death or disability because of birth problems that deprive them of oxygen.
The therapy uses a blanket with an electronically controlled cooling system that reduces a baby's body temperature to 92.8 degrees for 72 hours.
The study, headquartered at Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, followed 208 babies, who had difficult births, at 15 U.S. centers for 18 months.
Of them, 102 got the cooling technique, a device from Cincinnati Sub Zero Medical. The other 106 babies were closely monitored without the treatment, according to Indianapolis Star.
Forty-four of the babies who were cooled died or developed disabilities, compared with 64 of those who in the comparison group, said Dr. Seetha Shankaran, professor of pediatrics at Wayne State University School of Medicine and division director of neonatal-perinatal medicine at Children's Hospital.
Cooling is believed to reduce a series of abnormal events in the brain that occur after oxygen deprivation, Shankaran said. It reduces toxins that make the brain swell, causing death or disability. A.M.