It is thought that a new blood test could detect which babies who have been deprived of oxygen at birth are at risk of developing serious neurological conditions such as cerebral palsy and epilepsy.
The test new was developed by researchers from Imperial College London in collaboration with groups in India, Italy and the USA.
It searches for certain genes linked to the conditions being switched on and off. It is believed that a deeper investigation of these genes could help treat brain damage before it becomes permanent.
Babies can suffer oxygen deprivation at birth for several reasons, including the mother having too little oxygen in her blood, infection, or through complications with the umbilical cord during birth.
Following the oxygen deprivation, brain injury can develop over within months and affect different regions of the brain, resulting in a variety of potential neuro disabilities such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, deafness or blindness.
In a preliminary study of 45 babies that experienced oxygen deprivation at birth, researchers identified changes to a raft of genes in their blood that could identify those that go on to develop neuro disabilities.
The babies had their blood taken within six hours after birth and were followed up after 18 months old to see which had developed neuro disabilities.
The blood was examined to determine any difference in gene expression (the ‘switching on or off’ of genes) between those babies that developed neuro disabilities and those that didn’t.
The team found 855 genes were expressed differently between the two groups, with two showing the most significant difference.
Examining these two genes, in particular, could lead to a deeper understanding of the causes of neuro disabilities prompted by oxygen deprivation.
Senior author Professor Sudhin Thayyil, from the Centre for Perinatal Neuroscience at Imperial, said: “The results from these blood tests will allow us to gain more insight into disease mechanisms that are responsible for brain injury and allow us to develop new therapeutic interventions or improve those which are already available.”
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