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Experimental Drug May Help Babies Recover From Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is an all too common complication that occurs in childbirth. One study found that HIE injuries occur in about 1.5 of 1,000 births. Unfortunately for parents with children suffering an HIE injury, there are few treatment options and the brain damage for most children is permanent. However, new research suggests drug treatment may offer some hope for future treatment for children with HIE brain injuries.  

Journal of Experimental Medicine Study

A recent study in the Journal of Experimental Medicine (JEM), found a possible way to reduce the long-term brain damage to children who suffer hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy. The study suggests certain drugs that are used to treat acid reflux in infants may target the histamine H2 receptor. This may help babies recover from HIE. 

In HIE, lack of oxygen causes damage to the brain’s white matter, including fat-producing oligodendrocytes that protect the brain’s nerve cells. If oligodendrocyte precursor cells could produce new oligodendrocytes, it may help the brain restore the damaged white matter. Histamine H2 receptors inhibit the formation of oligodendrocytes. Lab tests found that mice without the histamine H2 receptor regenerate more white matter and recover better from hypoxic-ischemia.

Cimetidine is one example of a drug that is used to treat acid reflux in newborns that targets the histamine H2 receptor. Researchers who published the study found mice treated with cimetidine recovered better from HIE and even delayed treatment was more effective in restoring brain matter compared to no treatment. 

HIE Birth Injuries and Long-Term Damage

HIE is a brain injury caused by oxygen deprivation or lack of oxygenated blood flowing to the brain. HIE can occur during childbirth where there is some problem with the blood supply from the mother or during the transition from relying on the placenta for oxygen and blood to breathing outside the womb. When a baby begins to suffer oxygen deprivation during labor, the treatment generally involves emergency delivery and restoring the oxygen supply to the baby’s brain as soon as possible.  

In most cases, the damage done to the brain is permanent. The extent of the injuries may depend on the extent of brain damage. Common injuries and disabilities that may be related to HIE include: 

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Seizures
  • Impaired motor function
  • Delayed development
  • Hearing or visual impairment
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Language impairment
  • Coordination problems

Future Research for HIE Birth Injuries 

Hopefully, the research being done in mice will show promise for similar treatments in humans. HIE affects millions of people around the world. Even after a child is born, it may take months or years before the extent of the brain injury is known. Treatment during or shortly after childbirth that improves the recovery of damaged brain matter could help children avoid permanent developmental injuries.  

HIE Birth Injuries

If your child suffered oxygen deprivation during labor or after delivery, it can cause serious damage that will affect the child for the rest of their lives. If the birth injury was caused by medical negligence, contact Gilman & Bedigian for help. To speak with a member of our personal injury team, fill out an online case evaluation form or call (800) 529-6162 today. 

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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