Saving babies' lives using blankets

June 10, 2010 3:30:01 PM PDT
Babies who suffer from a lack of oxygen at birth can experience severe and sometimes fatal brain injuries, but scientists found a new procedure that can decrease the amount of brain injuries and save lives.

Babies who have sustained moderate brain damage due to lack of oxygen or low blood supply are now eligible for a technique known as brain cooling. This new procedure can help newborns less than six hours old, who were born after at least 36 weeks of gestation.

It's a simple blanket with tubes of cold water flowing through it. Over a period of 72 hours, it lowers the baby's body temperature to about 91 degrees Fahrenheit. The body's systems slow, reducing energy requirements and reducing swelling in the brain, potentially preventing further brain damage.

An 18-month study proved the cooling blanket can reduce the death rate, risk of seizures and cerebral palsy and improved mental scores, motor skills and vision.

Until now, there was no treatment designed specifically to save babies' brains.

Michael D. Weiss, M.D. University of Florida, said "Before the cooling blanket, we really didn't have any therapies that were brain-specific, so before, we would just provide supportive care for these babies. By cooling the babies, it actually decreases the amount of brain injury these babies have." This new cooling technique gives babies and their parents a fighting chance against severe brain damage.

"One of the biggest things that I think we offer the parents in this case is hope because we don't see the initial benefits of the treatment with a lot of these babies," said Dr. Weiss. "Its really as they progress and we look for them meeting their developmental milestones."

This treatment can help any baby deprived of oxygen at birth including those who had umbilical cords wrapped around their necks during birth. Right now, the blanket is only used at academic medical centers.

Doctor Weiss wants to create a network to implement the treatment nationwide.