Revolutionary cool jackets prevent brain damage

One newborn baby boy has already been treated with the amazing technique, which induces a state of mild hypothermia by reducing the body temperature by around three degrees.

The jacket is designed to prevent babies, who have suffered a lack of oxygen during birth, from developing long-term brain damage.

Julie-Clare Becher, consultant neonatologist NHS Lothian, said it was the biggest breakthrough in the field for 40 years.

She said:

“It does go against all of the modern thinking which says newborns must be kept warm, but this is amazingly effective.
“For the last 40 years, we have been trying to find something that would stop the continuing damage from occurring in the brain and now we have it."
“This will not save lives, but it will improve the outcome of some babies who would have gone on to have serious brain damage.”

Tots who have suffered a lack of oxygen, caused by a variety of problems including a difficult labour or problems with the umbilical cord, can now be assessed by medics and instantly referred for cooling to prevent later damage.

The baby is wrapped in the jacket, similar to a wine cooler, within six hours of birth, for 72 hours to reduce the temperature to around 33.5C.

It stops a series of complicated chemical reactions in the brain from taking place which go on to cause cell damage and a variety of development problems.

The jacket is hooked up to a clever system, which works in a similar way to a water cooler, regulates itself and takes account of changing factors to maintain a steady constant temperature of water being pumped through the jacket.

Julie-Clare said:

“It works a bit like hibernation. The cooling jacket reduces the metabolic rate so that the brain does not need as much oxygen or energy. This stops the chain reactions from occurring in the brain which can lead to damage in later life.
“With other cooling methods, two nurses would have had to work together to maintain the levels required, but this technique is so advanced that it means only one nurse is needed and it leaves them free to continue the other essential blood samples, x-rays and checks on the baby."
“This is a very safe practice in trained and experienced hands.”

The new technology was rolled out in NHS Lothian in December following extensive multi-national studies, research and training.

It is estimated that between eight and 10 babies will now undergo cooling in NHS Lothian every year.

No other health board in Scotland is using the cooling jackets, which were donated by the Simpsons Special Care Babies (SSCB) charity, dedicated to supporting the care of premature or sick newborn babies and their parents.

The charity raised money for two sets of the equipment, each costing £10,000, to ensure one can stay in the neonatal unit and the other can be used on ambulances to allow babies to begin cooling instantly, no matter where they are.

Gill Mitchell, secretary of SSCB, said:

“SSCB is all about giving something back. A lot of our members have had a baby in the Neonatal Unit or may have known a child treated there.
“Parents and friends want to do something tangible to thank staff and make sure that state-of-the-art equipment is available in the unit to help other families in a similar situation.” 
27/02/2009