The research, led by Andrew Whitelaw, Professor of Neonatal Medicine at the University of Bristol, and Ian Pople, paediatric neurosurgeon at North Bristol NHS Trust, has shown that, after a haemorrhage, the fluid inside the ventricles contains substances potentially toxic to the immature brain.
In 1998, Professor Whitelaw and Ian Pople pioneered a technique by which the inside of the brain was "washed out" to remove the toxic substances.
The Bristol team report on this pioneering work in an article published online in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
One of the most feared complications of being born very early is bleeding into the ventricles in the centre of the brain. A large haemorrhage usually injures the developing brain with consequent cerebral palsy and serious learning difficulties in several hundred children each year in the UK. In about half of the children, fluid builds up inside the brain causing the brain and head to expand excessively. This condition is called 'hydrocephalus'.
Until now, no treatment in these premature babies has been shown to reduce disability, or improve any aspect of health. The standard approach has been to repeatedly insert needles into the spine or head to remove fluid until, after several months, a permanent surgical "shunt" drains fluid from the brain to the abdomen.
Professor Whitelaw said: "Premature babies are particularly at risk of bleeding because in the middle of pregnancy, the fetus has many fragile blood vessels in the centre of the brain. These blood vessels shrink by full term and bleeding is rare in babies born at 40 weeks."
Professor Whitelaw and Ian Pople have researched the mechanisms and treatment of the condition called 'hydrocephalus' over the last 20 years.
If a premature baby was shown by repeated ultrasound scans to have had a large haemorrhage and then expanded ventricles, the baby was a
|Contact: Joanne Fryer|
University of Bristol