In the news:  Neonatal research in Wellington NICU

Neonatal Research

Note: This update was provided by Dr Max Berry and Maria Saito-Benz, who are working on some world leading, and ground breaking, research based out of the Wellington Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The Little Miracles Trust is committed to supporting neonatal research – so that understanding is increased and the care of future neonatal babies is enhanced. 
Dr Max Berry is a Consultant Neonatologist with The Capital & Coast District Health Board and a Senior Lecturer in Paediatrics & Child Health at The University of Otago, Wellington. 

Understanding the way in which premature or sick babies respond to treatment is absolutely critical. We need to make sure that each baby gets treatment that provides the maximum possible benefit to support the process of healing and recovery. 
Babies brains are incredibly vulnerable. Too little oxygen can stop brain cells functioning and developing whereas too much oxygen can cause other problems.  We also know that premature babies become anaemic; red blood cells carry oxygen around the body so when babies become anaemic (too few red cells) they cannot get enough oxygen to their brain and other organs. So, babies need blood transfusions to treat the anaemia and ensure that enough oxygen is transported to their brain and other tissues. 

At the end of last year, the NIMO-AI study led by Dr Max Berry and her PhD student Dr Maria Saito-Benz in Wellington NICU completed recruitment, thanks to huge support by families and babies who took part! The study looked at how blood transfusion affects oxygen levels in the brain and other parts of the body, and the results were very exciting. It showed that blood transfusion does improve the brain oxygenation in our premature babies, but it does so in some babies more than others.
When we looked into the results in more detail, we found out that the way red blood cells are prepared and stored in the Blood Bank may affect how efficient they are at carrying oxygen around the body – something that has not been discovered before! 

At the moment, all red blood cells given to premature babies in Wellington, and many other hospitals around the world, are irradiated as a safety precaution to prevent a rare but potentially serious complication of transfusion in babies. We found that red blood cells that are irradiated just before transfusion may work more efficiently that those that are irradiated and then stored in the Blood Bank. This exciting preliminary finding is now being confirmed in a bigger follow-up study (‘NIMO-Rad’), which is currently recruiting in Wellington NICU. These findings from Wellington NICU have the potential to improve care not only for premature babies, but for thousands of patients around the world who receive irradiated red blood cells. 

This research was recently profiled on TVNZ 1News 6.00pm News. You can view the video below with supporting text here.  


Want to learn more?

You can learn more about neonatal research here.
This research uses the Bioamplifier that was enabled by ICAP, through a fundraiser supporting The Little Miracles Trust.  You can read about this great support here – from this article:

The bioamplifier is important because it will give more detailed recordings of heart rate, blood pressure and brain oxygenation levels. This will add another level of detail to the conventional monitoring and give additional insights into the factors that put premature babies at greater risk of developing medical conditions as children and adults.