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Preventing brain injury

Sparks-funded research has led to the first successful use of a pioneering new treatment to prevent brain injury in babies who suffer from a lack of oxygen at birth.

The technique uses a unique combination of xenon gas and body cooling treatment developed by Marianne Thoresen, Professor of NeonataProfessor Marianne Thoresen in her laboratoryl Neuroscience at St Michael’s Hospital, Bristol and Dr John Dingley, Consultant Anaesthetist at Swansea University School for Medicine. As Marianne explains:

“Cooling as a treatment in medicine has been known for thousands of years. It has been applied to reduce swelling, reduce fever and to stop seizures. Research has shown that cooling after lack of oxygen at birth reduces poor outcome from 70% to 50%.There are significantly more healthy babies surviving since we started cooling therapy. However we now have the huge task of improving the results for the 50% of infants who are not helped by cooling alone.”

Xenon gas

“In 2002, Dr John Dingley, an anaesthetist, contacted me to tell me that the inert gas xenon had been shown to be protective in cell culture studies and that these results were confirmed by other groups.

For the last seven years we have gone through the same research steps as for hypothermia. When our research showed combining cooling with xenon was effective and it was a huge step to be allowed to start a feasibility study with 14 babies. The next six to eight years will show whether this treatment really improves outcome in babies.

All of the xenon work has been solely funded by Sparks. As a researcher and a clinical doctor it means I can concentrate on doing the work and the research, and do not have to write endless grant applications. Without Sparks I would not have come to where I am now in cooling/xenon research. It is important to give the right people the right money at the right time and recognising people who are willing to take the chance. This is what Sparks does.”

Giving thanks

“I also need to thank the parents of all the children I have treated who, at times of stress and despair, have trusted us to give their infants experimental treatments – first with hypothermia and now with adding xenon.

Many things inspire me but mainly it’s the parents and their children, and being allowed to enter their lives when it all looks bleak. We cannot help everybody but we can always care. I believe in what I do, it is only through science that you find the truth. There have been many setbacks but even those are very important in helping us to make progress.”