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New Research Suggests Blood Test May Pinpoint Cause of Brain Injuries in Newborns


New Research Suggests Blood Test May Pinpoint Cause of Brain Injuries in Newborns

Study finds that patterns of gene expression in the blood of newborns may help determine the cause of their HIE brain injury. The blood tested showed differences between infants born in low-income countries vs. high-income countries, which may impact therapy treatment regimens

A team of researchers from Imperial College London completed a study analyzing newborn brain injuries caused by a lack of oxygen. This type of injury, known as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), is responsible for a large number of permanent injuries and deaths of babies every year.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, suggests that a blood test can identify the main cause of a brain injury in infants. Researchers studied patterns of gene expression in the blood of 134 newborns with HIE in order to point to the cause of injury and determine if the child would be likely to respond to cooling therapy—a commonly used treatment method to reduce the damage caused by hypoxic-ischemic injury. The research compared data from babies born in low and middle-income countries (LMICs), as well as high-income countries (HICs).

Lead investigator Professor Sudhin Thayyil from the Department of Brain Sciences at Imperial College London concluded that gene expression patterns in babies from LMICs were similar to those of people with sleep apnea, which may suggest that these babies experienced intermittent hypoxia while in the womb and at birth. “We believe this is brought on by multiple chronic stresses during pregnancy such as poor nutrition or infection, as well as the normal labor process and uterine contractions, which leads to further hypoxia and ultimately injury to the baby’s brain,” Professor Thayyil says.

The research found that in babies from HICs, their gene expression patterns indicated a single, acute cause of brain injury. This may have been due to complications during birth, leading to reduced oxygen levels for the fetus.  

While cooling therapy is a common treatment of HIE in newborns, typically administered within six hours of birth, a study analyzing birth-related brain damage data from LMICs in South Asia suggest that cooling treatment may actually increase risk of death. Having a frame of reference for the cause of an infant’s HIE may help doctors determine the best course of treatment. Professor Thayyil comments that, “The key for clinicians, anywhere in the world, is to be able to identify which type of brain injury they are dealing with as soon as possible – and that’s something we’re currently working on.”

What Causes Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy?

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is caused by oxygen or blood flow deprivation to the brain during labor or delivery. The disorder can be acute or occur over a period of time, depending on the length of time the infant was deprived of oxygen or blood flow.

HIE may occur due to prenatal complications, or complications during the labor and delivery process, such as:

  • Maternal infection
  • Preeclampsia
  • Uterine rupture
  • Placental abruption
  • Fetal distress
  • Umbilical cord compression
  • Delayed cesarean section
  • Improper use of vacuum or forceps

Medical negligence and/or medical malpractice by healthcare providers may also result in an HIE injury. Some examples of this include, but are not limited to failure to:

  • Perform and/or interpret a non-stress test or fetal monitoring strip
  • Recognize and/or treat maternal infections
  • Use and/or monitor the use of oxytocin/Pitocin

Contact a Birth Injury Lawyer From G&E Today if Your Baby Suffered a Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) Injury

If you believe your child has suffered a Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) injury, our birth injury lawyers may be able to help you.

Call us at (877) 262-9767 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. We represent families nationwide and have offices in Chicago IL, Baltimore MD, New York NY, and Wilmington DE.