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Blood test could diagnose brain damage in babies just hours after birth.

A team, led by Imperial College London researchers in collaboration with groups in India, Italy and the USA have published their findings this week following research into an early blood test, which could detect which babies deprived of oxygen at birth are at risk of serious disabilities such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, deafness or blindness.

The prototype test looks for certain genes being switched on and off that are linked to long-term neurological issues, if these changes are detected early, further investigations may provide new targets for treating the brain damage before it becomes permanent.

Oxygen Deprivation at Birth

There are a number of reasons why babies can suffer oxygen deprivation at birth, the most common causes are:

  • Trauma to the infant in utero
  • Problems with the placenta
  • Umbilical cord prolapse
  • Preeclampsia and eclampsia
  • Excessive medication of the mother
  • Shoulder dystocia

Following oxygen deprivation, a brain injury can develop in a baby, hours or months later and may affect different regions of the brain.

Brain injuries can have a devastating impact on a child and their family. The child may require long-term specialist care, surgery, medication, rehabilitation, and / or an adapted home, which can be financially and emotionally taxing for many families.

Blood test to diagnose brain injury earlier following birth

During the study, babies had their blood taken within six hours of birth, with a follow-up check at 18 months old. The blood was examined for the switching ‘on or off’ of genes, between babies who had developed neuro disabilities and the babies who hadn’t.

In a preliminary study of the 45 babies who had experienced oxygen deprivation, changes to a raft of genes in their blood were identified by researchers, which enabled them to identify which of the babies would go on to develop neuro-disabilities.

It is hoped that this test will provide a greater understanding into the causes of neuro disabilities, make it easier to identify which babies are most at risk of complications, which should enable swifter interventions and treatment to improve outcomes.

Senior author Professor Sudhin Thayyil, from the Centre for Perinatal Neuroscience at Imperial, said: “The results from these blood tests will allow us to gain more insight into disease mechanisms that are responsible for brain injury and allow us to develop new therapeutic interventions or improve those which are already available.”

The team is now expanding the study to include a larger number of babies and examine the genes that appear to show the most difference

Director and Solicitor, Sara Westwood has previously acted on behalf of child who suffered oxygen deprivation during childbirth, securing a seven figure sum, with annual payments for life.

If you believe that you or your child have suffered a brain injury during childbirth, Sara can assist with a claim for compensation and the practical issues which can arise.

For more information, please contact 01603 877000, or



Imperial College London
Birth Injury

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