Doping Drug EPO Protects Brains of Premature Babies

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By Sarah Thomas | August 28, 2014 10:35 AM EST

study has found that an illegal hormone used by athletes to boost performance can help prevent brain injuries in premature babies.

Reuters
A nurse cares for Nourhanne Ahmed, a premature baby girl, inside an incubator at a public hospital in the province of Sharkia, northeast of Cairo, June 10,2008. The Egyptian Health Ministry has complained over the lack of sufficient funds for public hospitals. REUTERS/Nasser Nuri (EGYPT)

Erythropoietin is a hormone that increases the red blood cells count in the body and is used to treat anaemia in some babies as anaemia is a condition in which the red blood cell count is lower than normal, the hormone when administered would increase the count.

A team at the University Hospital of Geneva found that premature infants had a reduced risk of brain injury when given three doses of the hormone erythropoietin (EPO) shortly after birth.

A team at the University Hospital of Geneva administered three doses of EPO to the premature babies and they found that it reduced risk of brain injury. They conducted a brain scan that showed the positive effects of this hormone on the infant's brain. It was also seen that EPO reduced the need for blood transfusion in premature babies.

EPO reduced the injury in the brain's white matter and grey matter. The injury rates were lowered from 36 per cent to 22 per cent in the brains white matter and it reduced from 19 per cent to 7 per cent in the grey matter.

Dr. Russia Ha-Vinh Leuchter, co-researcher of the study said that there were two groups of pre mature babies, one were given a placebo and the other were given the EPO. It was seen that the brain damage was much less among those who were treated with the erythropoietin hormone than those babies in the control group.

Leuchter stated that this was the first time they had found out the benefit of the hormone and its effects on a premature baby's brain. But the researchers are calling for a further study and clinical trials of EPO. Dr. Jane Hawdon, a consultant neonatologist at Barts Health NHS Trust said, "Any treatment that may reduce long term problems in pre-term babies warranted further review". Dr. Jane was not involved in the study.

Further research is required to find out if the hormone would work in the "critical weeks" after the birth of the premature babies.

She said, "We should note that the authors are not recommending immediate inclusion of this treatment into routine practice." She also threw a light on the fact that not many pre-term babies survive brain injury.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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(Photo: Reuters / )
A nurse cares for Nourhanne Ahmed, a premature baby girl, inside an incubator at a public hospital in the province of Sharkia, northeast of Cairo, June 10,2008. The Egyptian Health Ministry has complained over the lack of sufficient funds for public hospitals. REUTERS/Nasser Nuri (EGYPT)
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