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Mater researchers are on track to develop a ground breaking treatment option to protect preterm babies from disabilities such as cerebral palsy, thanks to a generous donation from Golden Casket proceeds.
Almost 1 in 10 babies are born preterm, many of whom will face life-long disabilities such as cerebral palsy. Of those, babies born more than 2 months early are particularly at risk, which amounts to 4000 babies per year in Australia.
“Our hope, and of course the hope of all parents, is that in the future we will have a simple treatment to protect these vulnerable babies from disability,” Mater Mother’s Hospital Senior Neonatologist Dr Elizabeth Hurrion said.
A newly completed Mater Research study has set the foundations for achieving this goal.
“Our recent research, funded by a grant from Golden Casket proceeds, is the first study in the world to show that preterm babies rapidly become sulphate deficient, unless the mother has received magnesium sulphate,” study co-author and Mater researcher Dr Paul Dawson said.
“Sulphate is an important nutrient for healthy growth and development and is supplied from mother to baby during pregnancy. Infants born at full-term are able to make sulphate, but infants born preterm have not yet developed the mechanisms to do this,” Dr Dawson said.
“Magnesium sulphate given to mothers shortly before preterm birth has been shown to reduce the risk of cerebral palsy. However, the treatment cannot be given to all mothers, and is very expensive and unpleasant. It has been supposed that the protective effect was due to the magnesium content, but our research suggests it is the sulphate that is protective,” Dr Hurrion said.
“We now have to go ahead and prove this protective link, and that would then pave the way for a much simpler treatment that could be given soon after birth to all babies born preterm.”
Mater Research is about to begin a much larger study looking at whether low sulphate levels in the first week of life identify which preterm babies will go on to develop cerebral palsy and other disabilities, thanks to a large government grant.
“Without the initial research evidence of sulphate deficiency, funded from Golden Casket proceeds, we would not have been successful in obtaining the government grant to take our research further,” Dr Hurrion said.
Golden Casket has supported Mater for more than 90 years and continues to make an annual donation of $500 000 from proceeds to fund worthwhile projects that enhance the lives of Queenslanders.
Golden Casket Chief Operating Officer Sue van der Merwe said she is very proud of Golden Casket’s ongoing partnership with Mater Foundation.
“Golden Casket is delighted to be able to continue to support important research projects that will help to improve the lives of Queensland’s mothers and babies,” Ms van der Merwe said.
“It is wonderful to see the positive impact of our annual contribution to this important ground breaking research conducted by the Mater.”
Mater Research is committed to increasing knowledge of the influential events during pregnancy and early life that impact on healthy development and disease later in life.