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A Promising New Treatment May Help Newborns Deprived of Oxygen at Birth

Oxygen deprivation during birth, also known as brain hypoxia or neonatal encephalopathy, has been linked to several debilitating conditions. Brain hypoxia can cause cognitive impairments, seizures, coma, and death. Newborn oxygen deprivation has been linked to autism and cerebral palsy. The severity of injury to the baby’s brain, and resulting neurological impairments, depends on the length of time the newborn was deprived of oxygen. Babies who experienced extended periods without oxygen during birth may need 24-hour care and extended long-term treatment.

The reason for oxygen deprivation during childbirth can vary. If the umbilical cord is compressed or twisted, oxygen may not be able to flow into the baby. The umbilical cord can end up twisted around a baby’s neck, cutting off oxygen supply to the brain. The baby may also end up wrongly positioned during delivery, becoming lodged in the birth canal without oxygen. In each situation, a doctor must act quickly, such as by performing an emergency Caesarean section, to avoid lasting damage to the baby.

It is estimated that between two to five of every 1000 newborns suffer from oxygen deprivation at birth.

New treatment may limit damage

Currently, many hospitals treat brain hypoxia in newborns with “therapeutic hypothermia,” in order to slow brain function and allow the brain to heal itself. This method has proven to be effective in reducing death and developmental disabilities in newborns. However, this treatment does not work for every baby.

A new study by University of Auckland research fellow Dr. Joanne Davidson may help improve treatment for newborns with brain injuries suffered because of brain hypoxia. In her study, Dr. Davidson used a peptide (a protein) to block hemichannels, which connect the inside of cells with outside fluid, in order to prevent unhealthy cells from emitting “death signals” to otherwise healthy nearby cells in the brain. The treatment would theoretically prevent much of the brain damage associated with brain hypoxia.

The treatment is still in the research stage. How much of the peptide, when and how to administer the dosage, and potential side-effects must all be explored before it will be used on actual patients. Dr. Davidson speculated that this treatment may be used in addition to therapeutic hypothermia.

Newborns who have suffered oxygen deprivation “have a lot of motor problems, a lot of cognitive problems and this will try and reduce that burden of injury,” Dr. Davison told The New Zealand Herald.

Financial help is possible

Obstetricians have a duty to their patients to act within accepted standard practices in the medical community with regard to patient health during delivery. If the doctor fails to act or commits an act that doesn’t meet this standard, the patient may bring a medical malpractice claim against that doctor. Failing to begin a C-section in a timely manner is an example of a medical error that could bring about a medical malpractice lawsuit. If a claim is successful, an injured patient can obtain help with medical expenses, loss of income, and other monetary damages that resulted from the negligent acts of the doctor. Brain hypoxia may be evidence of medical malpractice. Parents of newborns who suffered brain hypoxia or other birth trauma or injury should consider consulting our experienced medical malpractice attorneys to investigate whether your child’s birth trauma or brain injury is the result of negligent medical and hospital care.

Date: July 24, 2014


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