Can cerebral palsy in preterm infants be detected via cord blood?

According to a new study, some babies born preterm without an important blood protein, haptoglobin, could be at greater risk of brain bleeding, cerebral palsy and/or death.

The researchers, from the University of Illinois in Chicago, said that their findings suggest that the lack of the protein in cord blood could be used by doctors as a biomarker that could indicate a greater need for monitoring or preventative measures.

Published in the internationally renowned Lancet medical journal the study was based on analysis of data and newborn cord blood samples from the US National Institutes of Health.

During the study, Dr Catalin Buhimschi and Dr Irina Buhimschi looked at cord blood samples from more than 900 newborn babies to see the effect of haptoglobin on the outcomes of children who been exposed to in utero inflammation, which causes about 30 per cent of preterm births.

They found that preterm babies who had been affected by inflammation and lacked the blood protein were more likely to die within their first year or develop cerebral palsy by their second year when compared to the rest of the data sample.

Dr Catalin Buhimschi, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the UIC College of Medicine, said: “Our study provides strong evidence that an absence of haptoglobin in preterm babies who have been exposed to inflammation is an indicator of increased risk for complications like brain bleeding, cerebral palsy and even death.

“This underscores the potential protective role of haptoglobin against short- and long-term poor neonatal outcomes and suggests that the protein may be a valuable marker of neurologic damage and the need for clinical interventions.”