Use of Umbilical Cord Blood to Improve Outcomes for Infants with Brain Damage due to Birth Hypoxia
Pregnancies typically end with the birth of a healthy baby and many deliveries proceed without potentially damaging complications. Despite this, and considering that each contraction facilitating the baby’s successful exit from the womb applies hundreds of pounds of pressure on the head, it is no wonder that complications can and do occur. A fetus in distress may be a sign of many things that can go wrong during childbirth, not the least of which is oxygen deprivation or blood flow restriction to the baby’s vital organs. When an infant’s brain is deprived of oxygen, serious injury may be the unintended result, the implications of which can plague your child for the remainder of his or her life.
The good news for babies born with hypoxic injuries, however, involves the promising new treatments to improve the lives of those with the condition. For instance, a recent study by Australian researchers confirmed that prolonged treatment with umbilical cord blood (UCB) cells reduces brain inflammation, brain tissue loss and cell death, which improved some of the debilitating effects of birth-related hypoxia. Published in the journal Brain Research, the study showed that multiple UCB doses in newborn rats improved brain tissue and brain density, reduced inflammation, and improved symptoms, such as muscle spasticity in the legs and arms, poor motor skills, and intellectual deficits.
Previous research and application established that umbilical cord blood contains plentiful stem and progenitor cells, which form tissue and organ cells, and ultimately help to repair brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation. The treatment is especially helpful to those with cerebral palsy, as it improves motor and cognitive skills. Instead of a single dose of UCB cells that produces temporary benefits, as previously discovered, the latest research found that multiple doses of UCB cells may alleviate some of the effects of cerebral palsy and improve motor skills and muscle strength within six months of treatment if administered early enough. These findings may prompt future clinical trials to determine efficacy in newborns with brain damage.
While the study provides hope for brain-injured infants and children, timely recognition of fetal distress and treatment by healthcare professionals is still the key.
Prevention is the Best Medicine
Hypoxic brain injury occurs when a fetus’s or infant’s oxygen supply is restricted before, during, or after childbirth. When this occurs, it may lead to permanent brain damage and other lifelong disabilities, such as cerebral palsy or hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), a brain disorder resulting from inadequate oxygen delivery to the brain. Newborns with brain injuries often grow up with cognitive disabilities and muscle weakness, possibly accompanied by muscle spasms or rigidity that prevents an affected child from learning, self-feeding, and other daily health, education, and grooming activities. In many cases, symptoms worsen over time. While mild hypoxia may not necessarily lead to permanent injury, more severe forms do, especially if left untreated.
Overall, the best treatment for hypoxic brain injury is prevention. Your doctor should know the signs of hypoxia during the labor and delivery process that could cause brain damage, intervening with urgency to alleviate the stress on your baby’s body and to protect their brain from permanent harm. And when infant brain damage occurs, prompt diagnosis must happen, requiring medical professionals to understand the root causes and recognize the associated symptoms. Hypoxia may be caused by conditions that decrease blood flow in utero or after delivery, such as umbilical cord injury, placental problems, infection, heart failure, shoulder dystocia, abnormal blood vessels, prematurity, jaundice, and overall oxygen loss.
Prompt Diagnosis Supports Treatment Outcomes
Once detected at birth, the newborn must be treated immediately, first by stabilizing oxygen flow through resuscitation, ventilation, and hydration. Also, cooling blankets may be used to lower body temperature and limit brain swelling. With all of this, speed is critical. In fact, if left hypoxic too long, infants suffer incurable brain injury often requiring expansive living assistance therapies to address cognitive, muscular, and neurological deficiencies. Testing through Apgar scores may confirm diagnosis, but other tests such as MRI’s may not happen during the critical early detection period. When this opportunity is missed, the child may be deprived of some of the most valuable medical interventions used to make significant differences in outcomes.
Thus, prevention, urgent diagnosis, and timely treatment place the burden on the healthcare team to know when to react and what to do within that window of opportunity. The goal is to avoid hypoxia and to prevent mild hypoxia from becoming severe. Unfortunately, HIE and cerebral palsy are often not diagnosed until months after birth, with cerebral palsy possibly confirmed only one to two years after delivery. At that late a date, treatment options are limited to parents and children coping with the symptoms. In essence, without prompt diagnosis of hypoxic brain injury, treatments and therapies must be aimed as management of its consequences, not preventing or reversing some of the damage from HI.
Preventable Injuries May be Cause for Legal Action in New Jersey and across the United States
If injury is preventable, lifelong conditions associated with birth hypoxia may be due to healthcare professionals’ failure to competently diagnose and treat a hypoxic newborn. When medical providers fall below the governing practice standards for identifying and treating hypoxic brain injury, they may be liable for medical malpractice. Likewise, if your child’s doctors caused or failed to prevent their injuries during the birthing process, you may seek compensation for past and future medical costs, in addition to emotional trauma, mental anguish, and other negative results of the harm caused. For this reason, it is important to seek advice from a qualified birth malpractice attorney who can examine the underlying circumstances of your child’s injury and discuss taking the next steps to provide for their therapeutic needs.
Our team of knowledgeable birth injury lawyers is here to provide the critical legal insight that you have been searching for. You can reach us anytime online or by calling 866-708-8617 for immediate assistance. We provide consultations free of charge, as well as representation for injured children and their families across New Jersey.