Study to look at treatment to prevent disorders in premature babies

01 August 2018
Newborn baby

University of Otago researchers will investigate a new steroid therapy which could potentially prevent disorders developing in children born prematurely.

Senior Lecturer in the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Dr Max Berry, will examine the use of neurosteroid analogue therapy which could potentially prevent behavioural and neurodevelopmental disorders developing in children who are born pre-term.

Dr Berry’s research interest focuses on investigating the impact of preterm birth on the person’s long-term health.

“Despite all best efforts prem babies still have higher rates of learning and developmental problems compared to children born at full term,” Dr Berry explains.

“We want to try and reduce this gap so that children thrive, irrespective of their gestational age.”

She says hormones a baby would have been exposed to had it stayed in the womb until full term, help with brain development. When babies are born early, they miss out on these vital hormones.

“We are trying to find ways to replace the beneficial effects of these hormones by giving a replacement therapy in the time between preterm birth and the due date.”

Dr Berry says she and her team are “absolutely delighted” to have a grant from the Neurological Foundation to help them carry out the research.

“It’s so important that these preterm babies don’t suffer health and wellbeing disadvantage through the rest of their lives – we want to develop new therapies so this on-going health disparity is prevented," she says.