Preventing brain injuries at birth with xenon gas

  • University of Bristol

  • £219,559

  • Birth asphyxia

After pioneering a cooling treatment to reduce and prevent brain injury at birth, Professor Marianne Thoresen at the University of Bristol is conducting a further study to improve the therapy and help even more babies.

Current situation
Lack of oxygen at birth can lead to permanent brain injury. Babies who are starved of oxygen during labour can go on to develop cerebral palsy and cognitive impairment. They can sustain lifelong physical and neurological disabilities. Approximately three in 1000 babies born at full term in the UK are affected by birth asphyxia – the same as 770 babies annually. Left untreated, 66 per cent of babies starved of oxygen will die or be left severely disabled.

Professor Thoresen was part of a research group that developed the first effective treatment for brain injury in infants – cooling to 33.5˚C for 72 hours. Newborns are cooled for three days to prevent brain injury. Thanks to this technique and the research already funded by Sparks and others, the risk of severe disability has now been reduced to 51 per cent of cases.

How this project will help
Despite their achievements, Professor Thoresen and her team think they can do better. Their goal is to try a new technique of administering xenon gas during the cooling treatment. Their research has showed that breathing the inert gas while cold could double the protective effects of the treatment.

The team will now conduct clinical trials on babies affected by birth asphyxia to compare the effectiveness of using xenon to the cooling process alone. The aim is to be able to develop safe and affordable treatment that helps babies survive with less brain injury. The team will also conduct follow-up testing at six months and 24 months to understand and measure the longer term effects of the treatment. By improving the effectiveness of this already successful treatment, this project will help to prevent even more brain injuries at birth.

You can make a difference
Get involved today and help change the lives of more babies like Rafe who have suffered oxygen deprivation at birth.