Protecting the newborn brain
Sparks-funded research has shown that clinically cooling helps reduce the risk of brain damage in babies who have suffered a lack of oxygen or blood supply at birth.
We part-funded the original research that developed the ‘CoolCap’ treatment – where a simple polythene cap filled with circulating cold water could be placed on the head of a new born to reduce brain temperature after birth and chance of damage.
Further research in the field led to a number of clinical trials investigating general cooling treatments which have been rolled out into the NHS. However cooling alone is unable to help all babies, helping one in 6. The current challenge is to find a second treatment that could be combined with cooling to increase the treatment’s effectiveness and further reduce damaging effects.
Sparks is currently funding a programme of research to determine whether a combination treatment of cooling and xenon gas (a rare, naturally occurring non-toxic gas) is more effective in preventing brain injury in babies than ‘cooling’ alone.
The research team based in Bristol, led by Professor Marianne Thoresen, Professor of Neonatal Neuroscience and Dr John Dingley, Senior Lecturer and Honorary Consultant Anaesthetist, have developed a new device that delivers xenon into the breathing gas of babies on ventilators in intensive care units. Initial trials have proven very promising.
As Xenon is a very expensive gas, a crucial part of the research involved finding a way to administer the gas efficiently – essential if the treatment is to be adopted more widely. The team have developed a system which uses less than 200ml xenon gas per hour – less than the volume of a soft drinks can.
Using this device, Professor Thoresen and Dr Dingley have undertaken the first UK clinical feasibility trial of xenon and cooling treatment. This may lead to larger trials in baby units, with the intention to make treatment available to all babies.
This research offers a real chance to help thousands of babies who suffer the effects of oxygen deprivation at birth in the UK each year.
Dr Dingley, Consultant Anaesthetist at Swansea University School for Medicine and co-investigator on the project, says,
“The lack of side-effects and brain protecting properties of xenon gas make it uniquely attractive as a potential treatment to apply alongside cooling in these babies. Thank you Sparks for giving us an opportunity to take this forward and make it happen.”
St Michael’s Hospital, Bristol
£945,214 over 84 months