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An Australian-first trial into a potentially life-threatening condition for newborn babies is one of the latest research programs at Mater Mothers’ Hospitals to benefit from a $500 000 donation from Golden Casket.
Neonatal Hypoxic Ischaemic encephalopathy—or ‘HIE’—occurs when a baby does not receive enough blood or oxygen before or during birth. This lack of oxygen can destroy vital cells in a newborn baby’s brain.
But the Preventing Adverse Outcomes of Neonatal Encephalopathy (PAEAN) trial, the first of its kind in Australia, is hoping to improve outcomes for babies worldwide.
The trial at Mater, led by Mater’s neonatology specialist and Mater researcher Associate Professor Helen Liley, has recruited close to 20 patients at Mater and others throughout 18 sites around the country and New Zealand.
Associate Prof Liley said the trial aimed to find new ways to reduce the rate of death and disability of babies suffering from HIE.
“The condition is a concern worldwide and this research aims to develop a more effective treatment option for HIE, to prevent death and brain injury which can cause severe disabilities for babies as they grow, like cerebral palsy.
“For babies who meet the criteria of HIE they will usually be given hypothermia (cooling) therapy to reduce the risk of long-term problems, however, the treatment doesn’t help all babies’ brains to recover fully, with more than one third of babies treated this way still living with long-term problems.
“The randomised PAEAN study involves hypothermia therapy combined with a high dose of Erythropoietin, a natural hormone, which shows promise as a treatment for HIE when given to babies in their first week of life.”
Sarah Stjepanovic knows too well the importance of the trial, including her own son David in the research.
Sarah’s labour was progressing well up until it was time for David to be delivered, and he showed signs of distress.
“David needed to be resuscitated when he was born; he was very unwell. He was rushed to Mater’s Neonatal Critical Care Unit where he was ventilated.
“My husband and I were incredibly concerned, but we were also reassured that David was in the best hands,” Sarah said.
It was shortly after that Sarah and her husband were informed of the PAEAN study at Mater.
“It seemed to be a great study to be a part of. The positives outweighed the potential negatives so we were happy for David to be a part of the trial which is so important for babies who don’t receive enough oxygen when they are born.”
David, like other babies in a similar situation, received the induced cooling treatment over three days.
“It was a little daunting but as David was very ill, we needed to make a quick, yet informed decision for him to take part, knowing it could potentially benefit him in the short term, as well as when he was developing.”
All babies in the trial receive the cooling therapy, and as it’s a blinded, randomised trial, they either receive the hormone or a placebo. The trial follows patients—and their progress—up until two years of age.
Now at nine months old, it’s difficult to tell that David has gone through such an ordeal.
“We continue to take David to follow up appointments, however, he’s physically advanced, doing everything a nine-month-old baby normally does.
“We can’t thank the staff at Mater enough. Every person we encountered treated us with so much care and respect. It was such a terrible time, but they made us feel at ease as much they could in what was a terrifying experience,” Mrs Stjepanovic said.
Associate Prof Liley thanked Golden Casket for the generous donation that would benefit not only seriously ill babies at Mater, but potentially babies who suffer from HIE globally.
This is the 26th year that Golden Casket has donated funds to Mater, totalling $13 million to date.
Golden Casket Chief Operating Officer Sue van der Merwe said she was honoured to present Mater with this year’s $500 000 donation and hoped it would bolster its life-saving and life-enhancing research.
“All Queenslanders should start their lives receiving the best care and opportunities possible, and this is what Mater is delivering through its PAEAN study,” Ms van der Merwe said.
“We are pleased we can support important world-leading research projects such as this.
“Baby David’s positive progress is testament to how studies like this can truly improve the lives of people throughout Queensland, Australia and the world.”