Page last updated at 00:19 GMT, Monday, 8 March 2010

Brain 'wash out' may help premature babies

Premature baby
The technique could benefit about 100 babies a year, researchers believe

A technique that "washes out" the brains of severely ill premature babies may aid survival, a study suggests.

Bleeding in the brain is one of the most feared complications for the most premature babies as it can lead to brain damage or death.

The Bristol University study of 77 babies found the technique - involving draining the brain while introducing new fluid - could reduce the risk.

It is thought the technique could benefit about 100 babies a year.

The therapy, pioneered at Bristol's Southmead Hospital, is carried out over a couple of days and requires close monitoring to ensure the pressure in the baby's brain does not rise too high, researchers say.

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Experts have described the findings as encouraging.

It would be used only on the most premature babies with large haemorrhages, which cause the brain and head to expand excessively - a condition called hydrocephalus.

Standard treatment currently involves repeatedly inserting needles into the head or spine to remove the build up of fluid over a number of months before a shunt is inserted to drain fluid into the abdomen.

But the study, published in the Pediatrics journal, found the new treatment called Drift was more effective.

Of the 39 babies to receive the treatment, by the age of two 54% had died or were severely disabled, compared with 71% who were given the standard treatment.

This is the first time that any treatment anywhere in the world has been shown to benefit these very vulnerable babies
Ian Pople, lead researcher

Paediatric neurosurgeon Ian Pople, one of the lead researchers, said he hoped the technique would soon be used in the NHS.

"This is the first time that any treatment anywhere in the world has been shown to benefit these very vulnerable babies."

One of the first babies to be given the treatment before the study took place was nine-year-old Isaac Walker-Cox, from Yate, near Bristol.

He was given a 1% chance of survival when he was born 13 weeks early.

His mother, Rebekah Walker-Cox, said that while he has mild paralysis on the left-side of his body, he is living a normal childhood.

"Mentally he has no problems at all, he has an above average reading age and is very good with computers. He just gets on with life and is an outgoing, happy little boy."

Andy Cole, of Bliss, the premature baby charity, said: "This is a very interesting piece of new research and we always welcome anything that has the potential to improve outcomes for babies born sick and premature.

"The early results of this technique are encouraging and we look forward to seeing how these findings might be translated into treatments that could ensure better outcomes for these vulnerable babies."



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