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New hope for our smallest patients

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Almost one in 10 babies are born prematurely.

Many of these babies will face serious health concerns, including disability.

A newly completed Mater Research study has investigated treatments for one such disability— cerebral palsy.

“Our pilot study was the first 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 this treatment is unpleasant, not suitable for all mothers and very expensive.

While previous research indicated that the protective effect was magnesium, Mater researchers believe it is the sulphate that provides protection from cerebral palsy. With this in mind, researchers are working on proving this link in order to then create a simpler treatment which could be given soon after birth to all babies born prematurely.

This much larger study will look at whether low sulphate levels in the first week of life can identify which preterm babies go on to develop cerebral palsy and other disabilities.

The pilot study was generously supported by a Golden Casket donation. As a result of this study, Mater Research has obtained government funding to support the next phase of the research.

“It is wonderful to see the positive impact of our annual contribution to this important ground breaking research conducted by Mater,” Golden Casket Chief Operating Officer Sue van der Merwe 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.

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