Liggins Institute trial: Newborn gel reduces risk of brain damage

Xavier, six months, Amanda Kamani, and Tobias, now three, took part in the trial. Photo/Supplied
Xavier, six months, Amanda Kamani, and Tobias, now three, took part in the trial. Photo/Supplied

A new trial has revealed a simple dab of "sugar gel" on the inside of a newborn's mouth can lower the risk of developmental brain damage.

The trial, undertaken by the Department of Paediatrics and the Liggins Institute at the University of Auckland, found the risk of neonatal hypoglycaemia can be reduced by a blob of sugar gel being rubbed inside the mouths of at-risk newborns.

As many as a third of babies born in New Zealand are at risk of neonatal hypoglycaemia, which involves a sustained dip in blood sugar levels following birth. Left untreated, it can cause developmental brain damage and lowered education outcomes later in life.

Risk factors include babies born preterm, smaller or larger than usual, or to mothers with any form of diabetes.

Babies born with low blood sugar are often required to go into special care units in the days following birth, disrupting breastfeeding and bonding with their mother.

The initial trial found a dextrose gel applied an hour after birth resulted in a 20 per cent reduction in the number of babies that developed hypoglycaemia within 48 hours.

Mother Amanda Kamai took part in the study with both of her sons, three-year-old Xavier, and six-month-old Tobias. Ms Kamani, who has type 1 diabetes and has worked in a neonatal intensive care unit, said she "leapt" at the opportunity.

"I was really keen," she said. "It has the potential to make such a huge difference for so many babies and their families," she said.

"Even though it might sound scary - 'we're experimenting on you' - it's only a little bit of gel, all the blood sugar testing they would do anyway. And you still get to be the mum and do all the mum things first."

Researcher Dr Jane Alsweiler, senior lecturer at University of Auckland Medical School and paediatrician at Auckland Hospital, said the team was "very excited" about the results.

"Using dextrose gel to prevent low blood sugars has the potential to stop babies being separated from their mothers in hospital and to improve their long-term development, without any disruption of breast feeding.

"There was also a trend towards fewer babies needing to go to NICU for hypoglycaemia," she says.

These results were from the initial trial. The main trial was now underway.

• If you want to find out more about joining the main trial, called hPOD, click here

- NZ Herald

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