Researchers working with epidermal growth factor, or EGF, a naturally occurring substance, have found that, when administered soon after a birth injury, EGF can reverse various types of brain injuries that occur commonly in premature infants.
The most common birth injuries among premature infants are caused by lack of oxygen. In fact, tens of thousands of preemies each year suffer brain injuries due to oxygen deprivation. Many of these birth injuries include cerebral palsy or perinatal hypoxia.
Oxygen deprivation is common among premature infants because very premature babies – those born before the 32nd week of pregnancy – have underdeveloped lungs and blood cells. The lungs and blood cells are not yet capable of delivering adequate amounts of oxygen to the preemie’s brain following delivery. This leads to oxygen deprivation, and oxygen deprivation leads to the death of brain cells. Even though these preemies are hooked up to oxygen while in intensive care, they still suffer brain cell death.
The most common form of brain cell killed by oxygen deprivation is the oligodendrocyte. This type of brain cell wraps around and insulates the nerve fibers in a structure known as myelin. Deteriorated or non-existent myelin causes issues with nerve cells sending and receiving messages. While the brains of premature infants attempt to repair dead or injured brain cells, this process begins too late, and by then, often times important motor functions are already impaired.
Researchers working with EGF began experimenting with mice. These researchers hypothesized that EGF could start this repair process sooner and found that, in mice, EGF did speed up the repair process.
Researchers administered repeated doses of EGF to the mice through the nose. After several treatments, the mice who received the EGF were identical to the mice who did not have any injuries.
The researchers believe that this process will work with premature infants, though based on their findings, they believe that premature infants must receive treatment within a few weeks of birth in order for it to be effective. Otherwise, the EGF will have been received too late to help repair the damaged or dead myelin cells. In addition, because the researchers saw success with intra-nasal treatments with the mice, they hope that EGF will be as easy and as effective to administer through human noses.
Because of the dangers of testing on human subjects, as well as restrictions and regulations, the researchers plan on first testing EGF on adults before trying it out on premature infants. The researchers hope to test EGF and other similar growth factors first on adults with multiple sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis also involves damaged or dead myelin, and researchers hope that if the growth treatment is successful with multiple sclerosis adults in generating myelin, it will be successful among premature infants as well. Researchers also hope to experiment with other growth factors as well.
If you or a loved one suffered a traumatic birth injury, either due to oxygen deprivation or other birth complication, please do not hesitate to contact Levin & Perconti to discuss your options.
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