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New study may help in addressing brain damage in premature babies

Every year in Texas and across the U.S., approximately 15 million babies are born prematurely, or before 37 weeks. Of those, around 9 million are left with injuries to the brain that could result in lifelong conditions like epilepsy and cerebral palsy. These brain injuries are often caused by overactive immune cells called microglia.

Normally, microglia play a positive role in developing a baby's brain. However, at the presence of inflammation, be it caused by maternal infection or an infection of the fetal membranes, they can damage the white matter of the brain. The neurons are thus less insulated, and this leads to weak connectivity in the brain.

One way to reduce brain damage in premature infants is to make the microglia helpful once again after they have turned rogue. Researchers at RMIT University have discovered a signaling pathway in the microglia that may allow medical professionals to do just that. This pathway, Wnt, was found after researchers injected mice pups with inflammation-causing proteins and killed off selective numbers of microglia.

If the Wnt pathway can be damped down, then it could even provide the basis for a treatment to prevent brain damage and reverse the effects of inflammation like memory problems. Such a treatment could not be given during pregnancy, so it may not prevent all brain damage.

It may take years before a therapy can be developed. In the meantime, it's important to know when birth injuries are unavoidable and when they are the result of negligence on the part of doctors or nurses. Parents who believe that their baby was injured through negligence may want to talk with a medical malpractice attorney. By filing a malpractice claim, they might be compensated for medical expenses both past and future as well as things like emotional trauma.

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