Discovery called exciting, but human application remains elusive, expert says
WEDNESDAY, Feb. 25 (HealthDay News) -- In experiments with rabbits, a team of scientists has created two chemical compounds that appear to protect a fetus from developing cerebral palsy from a lack of oxygen.
"It is known that if you have too much nitric oxide in the brain, which can be produced during hypoxia, it leads to fetal neurodegeneration," said lead researcher Richard B. Silverman, a chemistry professor at Northwestern University.
If such an event occurs during pregnancy, it can lead to brain damage in the fetus that can result in cerebral palsy, Silverman said. "This can happen right at the end of pregnancy," he explained.
Common causes of hypoxia include a pinched umbilical cord or a cord wrapped around the fetus's neck or shoulder.
The report was published online Wednesday in the Annals of Neurology.
Silverman's team developed two compounds that block an enzyme in brain cells that produces nitric oxide. At normal levels, nitric oxide is a neurotransmitter, which is important for brain functioning, but at high levels it can damage brain tissue. An excess of nitric oxide in the brain is believed to play a role in cerebral palsy.
In experiments with rabbits, excess nitric oxide caused most of the fetuses to die, and those that survived were severely brain-damaged, Silverman said.
"If you administer the compounds that we made a half-hour prior to the hypoxic insult, you can protect the fetus from neurodegeneration," Silverman said. All the animals treated with the compounds lived, and those given placebo died. Among animals given just one of the compounds, up to 80 percent were born normal, Silverman said.
Silverman said that he thinks the compounds can be used to treat infants with compromised oxygen levels before cesarean delivery. "The sooner you can protect the fetal br
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