A recent study gives new parents hope following the heartbreak that comes with hearing your baby has suffered a brain injury.
Scientists have found that a simple blood test might be a way to identify if your baby is at higher risk for a poor outcome following a birth-related brain injury – also known as neonatal encephalopathy.
Neonatal encephalopathy associated with oxygen deprivation in the weeks before, during, and after birth is the most common cause of death and brain damage in full term babies. Identifying at-risk babies sooner means faster treatment, which could protect them from some of the worst damage triggered by this kind of injury.
There are a number of other causes for neonatal encephalopathy and these include inflammatory processes, infections, metabolic and genetic causes. The outcome of all these sources look very much the same to you – your baby has a brain injury and there might not be a clear answer as to why. Given so many possible reasons for your baby’s injury, it might be difficult to get appropriate treatment. If the findings in this study are confirmed, it means hope of a better future for you and your baby.
Working with whole blood samples taken within six hours of birth from 45 babies with neonatal encephalopathy, the researchers analyzed the babies’ Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) with new generation sequencing. The babies were reassessed at 18 months of age and the RNA sequences of babies with worse outcomes were compared with the RNA sequences of babies with better outcomes.
Looking at the changes in RNA sequences between these two baby groups, researchers discovered that the same genes were working differently. The study revealed when, what kinds, and how much of each protein was being made in the babies’ cells. Some of these proteins were found to be harmful and some of them to be helpful. Babies with the worst outcomes made more of the bad proteins and less of the good ones.
Out of the 855 genes that were discovered to be most different between the two baby groups – two specific genes, RGS1 and SMC4, were identified as showing the most differences as well as being predictors of a worse outcome.
Knowing what genes are involved in poorer outcomes and the ability to identify these genes soon after birth, may mean the hope of faster and improved treatment for your baby with neonatal encephalopathy.
In all the good news, there are some cautions that come with these findings. The scientists were not necessarily looking for what they found and there weren’t many babies in the study. This means that the evidence is not quite as good as it might be and may not be duplicated in a larger more focused study.
However, it is still a hopeful finding and if you are a parent with a brain-injured baby – hope is good.