Premature births have long presented medical professionals with problems. Over the years experts have made tremendous advances in care such that children born earlier and earlier (and smaller and smaller) are kept alive. However, they have had less success ensuring that those children do not develop birth injuries following their early delivery. In many cases, damage is done to the children that can’t be prevented or repaired. In most cases those premature birth injuries involve damage to the young child’s brain. Medical professionals have long been behooved by brain development both for children in utero and in the early stages of their lives. Fortunately, encouraging medical advances continue to be made that may ultimately prove to have tremendously positive benefits for prematurely born infants and their families.
According to experts, this new knowledge will hopefully prevent premature infant injuries like cerebral palsy, epilepsy, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and a multitude of similar conditions. Every year more than sixty thousand extremely premature infants are born weighing less than 3.3 pounds. Thanks to medical advances, the vast majority of those infants will survive, but many of them will experiencebrain injuries that will affect the rest of their lives. Hopefully that will soon change.
National Public Radio News published an article this week, for example, discussing the ways that scientists are better understanding how these brain injuries develop. According to the article the latest information was explained by the involved researchers in a Washington D.C. meeting this week for the Society for Neuroscience. It has long been known that oxygen deprivation in the first hours and days after birth is the single biggest cause of premature infant brain injuries. Brain white matter-specifically myelin-is damaged without sufficient levels of oxygen. White matter is often referred to as the “communication highway” of the brain, as it is critical in messages being sent from the brain to other parts of the body. When a child is premature, their lungs are insufficiently developed, making it difficult for the tiny lungs to deliver as much oxygen as needed to the brain. This deficiency is not solved even when mechanical breathing devices are used to get more oxygen to the brain.
Part of the problem at finding a fix was that scientists were not exactly clear how the myelin damaged developed. Yet, that has changed as a new MRI scanner incubator system has been developed which allows doctors to understand the white matter injury in more detail. Many researchers now believe that these new developments will ultimately make it possible for researchers to figure out ways to prevent the damage. There are already a few options on the table which may prove promising. Each prevention measure revolves around quick action immediately upon the birth of the premature baby. One researcher noted, “There is a critical developmental time window right after birth. If development is disturbed during this critical time window then the brain doesn’t catch up.” If doctors intervene at that point, then the damage never occur. The intervention can take many forms, from drugs, to magnetic stimulation in certain areas of the brain, to lowering the infant’s body temperature. More research is needed to provide more specific information about the efficacy of any of these methods.
Our Chicago brain injury lawyers will be closely following these brain research developments. No personal injuries are as devastating as those involving young children, because they are often affected throughout their entire lives. All advances that will spare these victims should be pursued diligently and as timely as possible.
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