Hormone may help protect brains of premature infants, study suggests

A new study has found that a hormone often used to reduce the need for blood transfusions may also prevent brain injuries in premature babies.

The erythropoietin (EPO) hormone, responsible for stimulating production of red blood cells, can be beneficial when given to premature babies shortly after birth, a study in the Journal of American Medical Association suggests.

The study involved nearly 500 babies born between 26 and 31 weeks in Switzerland.

Infants born before 32 weeks of pregnancy face risk of brain damage and incomplete development of the brain, which may lead to long-term developmental issues, according to HealthDay News.

Doctors took brain scans of the infants treated with EPO and found a reduced risk of brain injury after three doses of the hormone. Results showed a 14 percent difference between rates of injury to the brain’s white matter in premature babies who received treatment, compared to those who had not.

“This is the first time that the beneficial effect of the EPO hormone on the brains of premature babies has been shown,” researcher Dr. Russia Ha-Vinh Leucter of the University of Geneva told BBC News.

Researchers are calling for wider clinical trials of the hormone, which is already given to some babies to help treat anemia.

“The real test of whether EPO protects the brains of those children will be when they are evaluated when they are older,” said lead researcher Dr. Petra Huppi of the University of Geneva.