Cooling therapy for newborns can slow brain damage, conference told

Some babies who would benefit from treatment are missed, pediatrician says

Cooling a newborn baby’s brain after a difficult or an early birth can slow down brain damage, a conference has been told.

However the challenge was to identify those babies who needed to be cooled- and those who did not and to do so quickly, it heard.

About 2 per cent of babies in the State experience interruption of oxygen or blood supply during delivery.

Of those babies, some who would benefit from cooling therapy, are missed, said Dr Deirdre Murray, consultant pediatrician and principal investigator at INFANT, a global research centre based in UCC .


The challenge was to identify these babies and to do so at an early stage.

Cooling therapy slows down the metabolism and has to be applied within six hours to be of benefit. In some applications of the therapy, a blanket filled with running cold is placed around the baby to reduce the body temperature from 37.4 degrees Celsius to 33.5 degrees Celsius for a period of 72 hours.

“We would have to be in very cold water to experience that kind of temperature,” Dr Murray said.

People have realised for a long time that if a body was cold even in near drowning incidents it could still recover and the benefits of cold water for babies was also noticed in Russia in the last century, she said.

However it is only in this century the research has pinned it down and since 2009 has been widely used.

The research was carried out on lambs in New Zealand and on piglets in the UK and then on small studies on babies followed by large randomised control trial.

Followed up seven or eight years later, babies who were at risk at birth and who had been cooled showed lower rates of disabilities. “It is quite a safe therapy,” Dr Murray said.

The pioneers of the research are speaking at a ' Brain Monitoring and Neuroprotection in the Newborn; conference being hosted by the UCC INFANT centre in Killarney this weekend.

Four maternity hospitals in the State have cooling therapy available, the three main maternity hospitals in Dublin, as well as CUH in Cork.

For others such as the maternity unit in Tralee it is important to have the babies transferred within the six hour period. And for the therapy to be of most benefit it should begin soon after birth, and certainly within three hours, Dr Murray said.