A team of researchers from the University of Illinois have discovered that preterm babies who are born without a blood cell protein called haptoglobin have a higher chance of brain bleeding and cerebral palsy. The findings could lead to the creation of early stage tests that help doctors take preventative action far earlier than normal, saving the lives of many preterm babies.

The research was recently published in the journal EClinicalMedicine. The trial involved the analysis of data and newborn cord blood samples. The samples were obtained from a previous clinical trial performed in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health.

The research team was led by Dr. Catalin Buhimschi and Dr. Irina Buhimschi. They analysed cord blood samples from a total of 921 newborn babies. Their team checked if if the sample’s haptoglobin levels were associated with poor outcomes in babies with utero inflammation — which causes about a third of preterm births.

They used statistical analysis to determine the link between haptoglobin, brain bleeding and cerebral palsy. The team discovered that babies who were preterm and lacked haptoglobin were more likely to develop cerebral palsy or die within a year of being born. The chances of intraventricular hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain) were also higher for children lacking haptoglobin.

The researchers found that the findings were consistent across children with different birth weights, sex, and gestational age. They also found that the findings were also consistent when neuroprotection treatments like magnesium sulfate were used.

Dr. Catalin explained the importance of the study, saying: “Our study provides strong evidence that an absence of haptoglobin in preterm babies who have been exposed to inflammation is an indicator of increased risk for complications like brain bleeding, cerebral palsy and even death,” she continued, “This underscores the potential protective role of haptoglobin against short- and long-term poor neonatal outcomes and suggests that the protein may be a valuable marker of neurologic damage and the need for clinical interventions.”

Doctors can now test a premature baby’s cord blood to determine if they are at higher risk of brain-bleeding and cerebral palsy. This could potentially save the lives of hundreds of children each year.

Source: Can a protein in cord blood predict risk of death, cerebral palsy in preterm infants?