Anemia drug help brain development in premature babies

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Premature babies
Premature babies

Erythropoietin is used too treat anemia but can also repair and protect vulnerable brains

A chemical commonly used to treat anemia can protect and repair vulnerable brains, like those of premature babies a new study has found. However, how erythropoietin(EPO) performs this function is a mystery.

Researchers have hypothesised that EPO may work its neuroprotective magic by modifying genes essential for regulating growth and development of nervous tissue. A role may also be played by its interactions with genes involved in the body’s response to low oxygen conditions (hypoxia). Findings from the pilot study were presented during the Pediatric Academic Societies 2018 annual meeting.

Secreted by the kidneys, EPO is a small protein that, when faced with a low oxygen situation, spurs the production of red blood cells in the body.

“EPO, a cytokine that protects and repairs neurons, is a very promising therapeutic approach to support the developing brains of extremely low gestational age neonates”

“During the last trimester of pregnancy, the fetal brain undergoes tremendous growth. When infants are born weeks before their due dates, these newborns’ developing brains are vulnerable to many potential insults as they are supported in the neonatal intensive care unit during this critical time. EPO, a cytokine that protects and repairs neurons, is a very promising therapeutic approach to support the developing brains of extremely low gestational age neonates.” says An Massaro, M.D., an attending neonatologist at Children’s National Health System and lead author of the research.”

The research team investigated whether very small pre-term babies treated with EPO showed changes in genes dealing with inflammation and hypoxia. The genetic analyses are an offshoot of a large, randomized clinical trial of EPO to treat preterm infants born between 24 and 27 gestational weeks.

The DNA of 18 newborns enrolled in the clinical trial was isolated from specimens drawn within 24 hours of birth and at day 14 of life. Eleven newborns were treated with EPO; a seven-infant control group received placebo.

“The findings suggest that EPO’s neuroprotective effect may be mediated by epigenetic regulation of genes involved in the development of the nervous system and that play pivotal roles in how the body responds to inflammation and hypoxia,” Dr. Massaro says.