February 15, 2024

Researchers find new way to deliver treatment to infants at risk of cerebral palsy

Drug-release technology carries medication to the site of perinatal brain injury, protecting infants from harmful side effects


Delivering critical early-life medication to newborns at risk of cerebral palsy from suspected brain injury will be safer thanks to a University of Alberta research team.

Although doctors have long known that brain injury during labour and delivery was a leading cause of cerebral palsy, a group of conditions affecting movement and posture, they’ve had little ability to help their tiny patients. In addition to lacking diagnostic tools to confirm the presence of a brain injury, doctors have had few interventions at their disposal.

“It’s a dual effect,” said Larry Unsworth, a professor in the Faculty of Engineering and member of the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute (WCHRI). One kind of perinatal brain injury caused by oxygen deprivation, hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), is sometimes treated with therapeutic hypothermia, in which the infant’s body is cooled in order to slow the metabolism of brain cells to stop further damage from occurring. Unfortunately, this approach has been shown to be ineffective in treating moderate to severe HIE.

With support from the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation through WCHRI, Unsworth set out to find a solution to this problem alongside pediatrics professor Jerome Yager and research team members Jung-Lynn Jonathan Yang, Rukhmani Narayanamurthy and Ed Armstrong. “We wondered if there was a way to target the change in the local brain tissue caused by HIE to reduce damage in the brain?” said Unsworth. “Easy question to ask; hard to do.”

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