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Cooling Helps Oxygen-Deprived Newborns
Date:9/30/2009

Study found it lowered risk of neurological problems later

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 30 (HealthDay News) -- New research shows that lowering the body temperature of oxygen-deprived newborns reduces the risk for neurological problems later.

Unfortunately, the strategy did not reduce the risk of death or severe disability.

Still, the findings, appearing in the Oct. 1 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, help fill a crucial gap in the effort to treat babies who have brain damage due to hypoxia, or lack of oxygen.

"This is another bit of incremental evidence that hypothermia helps with hypoxia and ischemia [restriction in blood supply]," said Dr. John Ragheb, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Miami Children's Hospital, who is familiar with the study. "This is going to be a very important paper."

But many institutions already practice cooling in this context, added Dr. James Greenberg, director of the division of neonatology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Research Foundation, making it uncertain how much the paper is actually going to change current practice.

And there's more that needs to be known, including which newborns would benefit most from the practice, and how best to apply it, he said.

Cooling body temperature, or hypothermia, has been used since the 1920s or 1930s to help with injuries and even to reduce damage after a heart attack, Ragheb noted.

But scientists are only now collecting data on how hypothermia might benefit babies born with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), when severe blood deprivation to the brain results in the death of brain cells, possibly leading to cerebral palsy or mental retardation.

Previous research has focused on premature babies, Ragheb said. "This is term babies, so it expands the indication for using it."

This study, conducted in five countries, involved 325 babies who were less than six hours old who
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