08:59am Monday 23 September 2019

Trial offers hope for pre-term babies

Professor Euan Wallace

Professor Euan Wallace

The trial will be run through Monash Institute of Medical Research’s Ritchie Centre and the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Unit at Southern Health’s Monash Medical Centre and will include 20 mothers-to-be. It is expected to start mid-year and will run for 12 months. 

In Australia a baby is born with cerebral palsy every 15 hours and, of these babies, seven out of 10 sustain the injury to their still-developing brain during pregnancy.

This trial builds on research by The Ritchie Centre’s Dr Suzie Miller and Professors Graham Jenkin and Euan Wallace who have shown how and why intrauterine foetal growth restriction (IUGR) is a major cause of injury to the developing foetal brain.

Professor Euan Wallace said IUGR can cause damage to the brain through oxidative stress – very similar to mechanisms that cause brain damage in adults who have had a stroke.

“It is not possible to treat these babies once they have been born because the damage has already been caused,” Professor Wallace said.

“To prevent cerebral palsy in these children we must understand the situations in which the developing brain is injured and develop treatments that we can safely give to the pregnant mother to prevent or treat that injury.”

Research conducted by the Ritchie Centre team to mimic human foetal growth restriction has shown that brain damage can be prevented by administration of melatonin supplements.

“Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant and, we believe, it protects the fragile developing brain cells, preventing cerebral palsy,” Professor Wallace said.

Professor Wallace said the melatonin supplements will be taken via mouth as tablets.

“Based on our experiments we have recently confirmed the human foetus with IUGR is exposed to excessive oxidative stress. This is likely to be a major player in the development of brain injury in the IUGR foetus,” Professor Wallace said. 

“We now hope to show that melatonin can prevent this injury from ever happening.”

“If successful, this treatment promises a major advance in the care of women with a pregnancy complicated by IUGR and, hopefully, will protect some future children from cerebral palsy.”

Findings from this trial are expected during 2013.

This close alignment of basic and clinical research is typical of activities that will be part of the new Monash Health Translation Precinct facility announced today. The aim is to mix basic and clinical research to speed the delivery of research discoveries to improve the health of the community.

Monash University.

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