World-first Wellington study tries to increase oxygen intake for premature babies

More than 5,000 babies are born prematurely in New Zealand every year and fighting to keep them healthy is a big challenge.

Kiwi doctors in the capital are trying to increase the level of oxygen that can reach premature babies developing brains. Source: 1 NEWS

In a new study in Wellington described by researchers as a world first, doctors are trying to increase the level of oxygen babies receive to prevent developmental issues later in life.

Doctor Maria Saito-Benz, a neonatologist involved in the study said there was a lot of potential improvement in the treatment. 

"If treatments that we are giving to these babies are not effective, then potentially, we're not preventing neurological complications that are potentially preventable," Dr Saito-Benz said.

Premature babies' brain development is dependent on blood transfusions to ensure the supply of oxygen.

The blood is treated in a process called irradiation to make it safe, and is usually done weeks in advance.

But in a trial on 24 babies, doctors have found that blood treated immediately before a transfusion was able to bind with, and break away from, oxygen more efficiently.

Doctor Max Berry was ecstatic when she saw the results.

"When we saw this data, we looked at it and we've looked at it again and again to make sure that what we're seeing is correct, and that data was so exciting, we had to move on quickly to do this second study," she said.

Researchers at the hospital believe their findings could have wider implications for future cardiac or cancer patients.

"Hopefully, our findings in due course, help millions of people around the world," Dr Saito-Benz said.