Study Shows Hormone Protects Brains of Premature Babies

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ByAnisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Updated
Mar 2017
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Photo: Getty Images

Boosting the health of premature baby brains might not be so different from boosting athletic performance.

A new study published in JAMA, or the Journal of the American Medical Association, says that  erythropoietin  does the trick. Also known as EPO , this hormone stimulates the production of red blood cells and reduces the need for blood transfusions in premature infants. Synthetic versions are used to treat anemia, and athletes sometimes use the substance illegally to enhance performance.

Why do the brains of preterm babies need more protection? They have a higher risk of developing encephalopathy of prematurity, which is associated with long-term neurodevelopmental delay. Brain scans determined that babies who received a three doses of EPO within 42 hours of birth had a reduced risk of brain injury. Specifically, compared to the control group, they had 14 percent less damage to white brain matter and 12 percent less damage to grey matter.

The study looked at 495 babies born between 26 and 31 weeks in Switzerland. Researchers are now calling for wider trials of the hormone.

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