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Cooling therapy for newborn babies

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Small smiling child

Developing cooling therapy for newborns

Each year, almost a million newborn babies worldwide will lose their lives after suffering brain injury due to oxygen shortage. Until recently there haven’t been any specific treatments to prevent this damage but a groundbreaking cooling therapy is changing that.

A baby is cooled by a few degrees with a purpose-made cap or with a special blanket or mattress, then gradually warmed again after two or three days. By cooling the body to reduce brain temperature, doctors can alter the chemical processes that lead to brain damage. This breakthrough therapy is the product of a 20-year programme of research to which Action Medical Research contributed through key projects funded in the 1990s and 2000s. Vital research supported by the charity was conducted by Professor John Wyatt and colleagues at University College London. They carried out fundamental laboratory work on cooling and developed techniques for measuring brain temperature and for identifying babies that would potentially benefit from cooling.

Their work was of central importance in the development of clinical trials of cooling in newborns. In conjunction with this work, the team participated in the international CoolCap trial, the first published major trial to show a benefit. Over the last decade, the results from clinical trials have built up powerful evidence supporting the safety and efficacy of cooling which is being adopted in UK hospitals following NICE guidance in 2010.

Video credit: Charlotte Wilkins, ITV Broadcast Reporter, Meridian Tonight, 6.00pm 28/2/12