WASHINGTON, Aug. 26 (Xinhua) -- Administering three doses of erythropoietin (EPO), a blood-doping hormone that stimulates the formation of red blood cells, immediately after birth may significantly reduce brain damage in very preterm infants, a study published by the Journal of American Medical Association said Tuesday.
About 2.6 million babies are born in the world every year before the 32nd week of pregnancy, according to the World Health Organization.
There are numerous health implications for children who are born so prematurely, including brain damage and incomplete maturation of the brain, especially the white matter responsible for propagating information in the nervous system, said the study led by the University of Geneva and the University Hospital of Geneva.
EPO, whose doping effects amongst athletes are well-known, is a treatment commonly used to prevent anemia. It is also used in preterm infants, as it reduces the need for blood transfusions. A number of recent studies have shown that the same hormone also has a neuroprotective effect.
In the new study in Switzerland, 495 infants born from 26 weeks to 32 week of gestation were randomly assigned to receive EPO or placebo intravenously before three hours, at 12 to 18 hours, and at 36 to 42 hours after birth.
The researchers used a new imaging technique called magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to identify brain damage in a subset of 165 of the 495 infants, half of whom had received three doses of EPO within two days of birth.
"We found that the brains of the children who had received the treatment had much less damage than those in the control group, who had been given a placebo," said co-author Russia Ha-Vinh Leuchter of the University Hospital of Geneva.
"This is the first time that the beneficial effect of the EPO hormone on the brains of premature babies has been shown."