A new research suggests that cooling babies deprived of oxygen at birth improves their chances of growing up without disabilities such as cerebral palsy.
The study, published in New England Journal of Medicine, showed newborns given the treatment were more likely to have higher IQs at school age.
Babies were placed on a special mat and cooled at 33C for three days to help reduce brain injury.
Experts say the study confirms the therapy has long-lasting effects.
It can set off a cascade of processes in the body resulting in the gradual death of brain cells, leaving babies at risk of brain damage and even death.
Until recently there has been no approved treatment to help reduce the aftershocks of low oxygen at birth.
Cooling babies deprived of oxygen at birth improves their chances of growing up without disabilities such as cerebral palsy
However, a 2009 study of more than 300 newborns showed cooling treatment – known as therapeutic hypothermia – could help reduce brain damage at 18 months.
Researchers think the therapy works by slowing the production of harmful substances in the brain and the rate of brain cell death. But how long these improvements may last has been unclear.
Led by the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford and Imperial College London, a team of scientists revisited these children at six or seven years of age.
They examined the children’s:
- IQ scores
- memory power
- attention spans
- signs of disability
Children who had been cooled as babies were less likely than those who had received standard treatment to have neurological abnormalities and performed better in tests of manual ability.
About 45% of cooled children had no brain abnormalities, compared with 28% of those who had had standard treatment
And some 21% in the cooling group had cerebral palsy, compared with 36% in the control group.
Babies in the hypothermia group were also more likely to have IQ scores above 85.
The simple and relatively inexpensive treatment has been adopted in many countries across the globe.
The cooling treatment showed no influence on survival rates though – a similar proportion (about 30%) of babies in both groups did not survive to school age.
Researchers say the next steps will be to look at therapies that can work in conjunction with therapeutic hypothermia and increase the chances of normal survival.
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A new research found that young people who smoke cannabis run the risk of a significant and irreversible reduction in their IQ.
The findings come from a study of around 1,000 people in New Zealand.
An international team found those who started using cannabis below the age of 18 – while their brains were still developing – suffered a drop in IQ.
A UK expert said the research might explain why people who use the drug often seem to under-achieve.
For more than 20 years researchers have followed the lives of a group of people from Dunedin in New Zealand.
They assessed them as children – before any of them had started using cannabis – and then re-interviewed them repeatedly, up to the age of 38.
Having taken into account other factors such as alcohol or tobacco dependency or other drug use, as well the number of years spent in education, they found that those who persistently used cannabis suffered a decline in their IQ.
A new research found that young people who smoke cannabis run the risk of a significant and irreversible reduction in their IQ
The more that people smoked, the greater the loss in IQ.
The effect was most marked in those who started smoking cannabis as adolescents.
For example, researchers found that individuals who started using cannabis in adolescence and then carried on using it for years showed an average eight-point IQ decline.
Stopping or reducing cannabis use failed to fully restore the lost IQ.
The researchers, writing in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that: “Persistent cannabis use over 20 years was associated with neuropsychological decline, and greater decline was evident for more persistent users.”
“Collectively, these findings are consistent with speculation that cannabis use in adolescence, when the brain is undergoing critical development, may have neurotoxic effects.”
One member of the team, Prof. Terrie Moffitt of King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, said this study could have a significant impact on our understanding of the dangers posed by cannabis use.
“This work took an amazing scientific effort. We followed almost 1,000 participants, we tested their mental abilities as kids before they ever tried cannabis, and we tested them again 25 years later after some participants became chronic users.
“Participants were frank about their substance abuse habits because they trust our confidentiality guarantee, and 96% of the original participants stuck with the study from 1972 to today.
“It is such a special study that I’m fairly confident that cannabis is safe for over-18 brains, but risky for under-18 brains.”
Robin Murray, professor of psychiatric research, also at the King’s College London Institute of Psychiatry but not involved in the study, said this was an impressive piece of research.
“The Dunedin sample is probably the most intensively studied cohort in the world and therefore the data are very good.
“Although one should never be convinced by a single study, I take the findings very seriously.
“There are a lot of clinical and educational anecdotal reports that cannabis users tend to be less successful in their educational achievement, marriages and occupations.
“It is of course part of folk-lore among young people that some heavy users of cannabis – my daughter callers them stoners – seem to gradually lose their abilities and end up achieving much less than one would have anticipated. This study provides one explanation as to why this might be the case.
“I suspect that the findings are true. If and when they are replicated then it will be very important and public education campaigns should be initiated to let people know the risks.”