Cooling 'cure' averts infant brain damage

Hi-tech 'ice pack' helps to protect newborns starved of oxygen through suffocation

The devastating impact of asphyxia at birth, which affects more than 1,000 babies a year in the UK, can be averted by applying a hi-tech version of an ice pack to the head, doctors have found.

Cooling the brains of newborn babies deprived of oxygen dramatically improves the proportion who survive unharmed, two decades of research has shown.

Brain damage in babies asphyxiated at birth – often because their umbilical cords have become wound around their necks – leaves hundreds permanently disabled each year and is the most common cause of multimillion-pound lawsuits against the health service.

A study of babies asphyxiated at birth in hospitals across the UK and Europe suggests that the cooling treatment could save at least 100 babies a year from brain damage.

Of the 325 babies in the survey, half were cooled within six hours of delivery and their body temperatures were maintained at 3C to 4C below normal for three days. The results showed that almost half (44 per cent) recovered with no brain damage, compared with just over a quarter (28 per cent) among those left at normal temperature.

Denis Azzopardi, of Imperial College, London, who led the research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, said: "Our study builds on a 20-year body of research but gives, for the first time, irrefutable proof that cooling can be effective in reducing brain damage after birth asphyxia. Unfortunately, it doesn't work in every case.

"Birth asphyxia is a very important problem, even in the UK which has a fantastic obstetric service. Cases still occur and there are about 1,400 infants born with birth asphyxia each year in the UK. Worldwide it is a huge problem."

The findings of the £1m study will be passed to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence for consideration.

Cooling the brain to reduce damage caused by injury was tried on soldiers in the 19th century, and as a means of resuscitating babies in the 1950s (by plunging them into very cold water). The new research shows there is a "therapeutic window" of a few hours after injury occurs when it is possible to intervene to prevent long-term damage.

Dr Azzopardi added: "Injury caused by asphyxia occurs in two phases: immediately, when the brain is starved of oxygen, and then later when the blood supply is restored and there is a chemical cascade when the machinery of the cells breaks down."

To have maximum effect, cooling must begin within six hours of birth and be maintained for 72 hours before an infant is gradually warmed again. Different techniques have been used. One involves the use of a polythene "coolcap" hat filled with cold water, or, for the current study, a total body version involving pumping cold water through a specially adapted mattress.

"It is not a new concept. The rationale is relatively simple. But of all the treatments for brain damage tried, cooling has proved the most effective," Dr Azzopardi said.

Carmel Bartley, of the children's charity, Bliss said: "This is welcome research into an area which is known to save lives. It is a specialist treatment we would like to see used more widely."

On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

Matt Smith is set to join cast of Jane Austen classic - with a twist

A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General


    £15000 - £16000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: To work as part of the Le...

    KS1 Float Teacher needed in the Vale

    £100 - £110 per day + Travel scheme plus free professional trainnig: Randstad ...

    Science Teacher

    £100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Are you a qualified secondary...

    KS2 Float Teacher required in Caerphilly

    £100 - £110 per day + Travel Scheme plus free professional training: Randstad ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week