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Cerebral palsy: seizing the power of the body’s natural healing processes to repair brain damage

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What did the project achieve?

“Our study has revealed promising new avenues for improving brain repair in babies following a birth injury, which we hope could lead to new life-improving treatments for children with cerebral palsy,” says Dr Veronique Miron of the University of Edinburgh.

Around 2,000 babies in the UK are diagnosed with cerebral palsy every year.1,2 Usually caused by damage to a baby’s brain before, during or soon after birth, children with cerebral palsy have difficulty controlling their muscles and movement and can face a lifetime of challenges.

Dr Miron’s project focused on understanding the roles of immune cells, called macrophages, in driving brain repair. These are thought to help boost natural repair processes – but they may also cause damage by triggering inflammation.

“In human brain tissue and in our laboratory model, we found there were fewer repairing macrophages in areas of the brain that are damaged after an injury,” says Dr Miron. “By using certain drugs, it was possible to boost their numbers in our laboratory model – and this led to increased brain repair.”

The researchers also investigated a substance released by repairing macrophages – called activin-A – finding that it is needed for normal brain formation and repair.

“Overall, this study has revealed more about how repairing macrophages and activin-A help support brain repair,” says Dr Miron. “Our findings have led us towards existing drugs that we predict could help reduce the nerve damage that causes the symptoms of cerebral palsy.”

The next steps will be to test these drugs to find out whether they can boost brain repair in laboratory models.


  1. Wimalasundera, N. & Stevenson, V.L., Cerebral palsy. BMJ Practical Neurology 2016; 16:184-194.
  2. Office for National Statistics. Vital statistics in the UK: births, deaths and marriages – 2018 update. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/datasets/vitalstatisticspopulationandhealthreferencetables [website accessed 31 October 2019]

This research was completed on

Estimates suggest around one in every 400 children has cerebral palsy in the UK.1 They will experience lifelong difficulties with movement and coordination. While some children have only minor problems, others can be severely disabled. Although treatment helps, sadly there is no cure. Dr Veronique Miron, of the University of Edinburgh, is searching for ways to repair the brain damage that causes children’s symptoms. Her ultimate goal is to develop treatments that stimulate natural healing processes. She hopes such treatments will one day give children with cerebral palsy greater control of their movement and improve their lives.

How are children’s lives affected now?

Every year in the UK, around 2,000 babies are diagnosed with cerebral palsy, the commonest physical disability of childhood.1-5
“Children with cerebral palsy can experience a range of different movement problems,” says Dr Miron. “Their muscles might be weak or stiff, for example. They might experience random, repetitive and uncontrollable body movements. They might also have difficulties with balance or posture. Some children have other problems too, such as seizures or learning difficulties.”

Children’s movement problems can complicate everyday life. The children might not be able to walk, talk, eat or play, for example, the way others do.

“Treatment helps,” says Dr Miron. “For example, drugs can relax stiff muscles, occupational and speech therapy help children develop skills needed in day-to-day life, and crutches or wheelchairs help children get around. Sadly though, there is no cure for cerebral palsy and no way to repair the brain damage that causes children’s problems.”

How could this research help?

“Our ultimate goal is to develop new medicines for children with cerebral palsy that can repair damage within the brain and ease children’s movement problems,” says Dr Miron. Babies can develop cerebral palsy if the brain is damaged before, during or shortly after birth, or if the brain develops abnormally. Their symptoms result from damage to areas of the brain that control movement. This damage doesn’t get worse with age, but it doesn’t get better either.

“We think naturally occurring cells called macrophages can release substances that stimulate brain repair,” says Dr Miron. “We’re trying to find out more about these substances, because it’s possible that they might be suitable as future medicines for cerebral palsy.”

“Medicines that stimulate brain repair might improve the quality of life of children with cerebral palsy by increasing their mobility and independence,” continues Dr Miron. “We hope our work will one day lead to such treatments.”

1. NHS Choices. Cerebral palsy. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cerebral-palsy/pages/introduction.aspx Website accessed 30 December 2014.
2. ISD Scotland. Births in Scottish Hospitals. Year ending 31st March 2013. Publication date – 26th August 2014. http://www.isdscotland.org/Health-Topics/Maternity-and-Births/Publicatio... Website accessed 19 January 2015.
3. Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. Births. Live Births, 1887 to 2013 (Excel). http://www.nisra.gov.uk/demography/default.asp8.htm Website accessed 19 January 2015.
4. Office for National Statistics. Births in England and Wales 2013. http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/vsob1/birth-summary-tables--england-and-wa... Website accessed 19 January 2015.
5. Disability in childhood. http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/disability-in-childhood Website accessed 30 December 2014




Project Leader Dr Veronique E Miron BSc PhD
Project Team Professor Pierre Gressens MD PhDProfessor Jane E Norman MB ChB MD MRCOG CCT FRCOG FSB F Med Sci FRCPE
Project Location MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, The Queen's Medical Research Institute, University of Edinburgh
Project Location Other Department of Perinatal Imaging and Health, King's College London
Project duration 3 years
Date awarded 21 November 2014
Project start date 13 April 2015
Project end date 12 April 2018
Grant amount £199,356
Grant code GN2318


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