Could caffeine given from birth help prevent developmental impairment in babies?

University of Auckland senior lecturer in Paediatrics Dr Jane Alsweile hopes to answer that question with a clinical trail after being awarded a Feasability Study grant of $249,513.

The research has been dubbed "The Latte Trial".

The grant awarded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) to determine the most effective dose of caffeine to use in babies four to six weeks early.

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Before that could be answered Alsweiler also needed to figure how much caffeine to give.

Over 3,500 babies in New Zealand are born "late preterm" (four to six weeks early) every
year and are at greater risk of disability when they get older than babies born at term, she
said.

This may be because late-preterm babies frequently had drops in the amount of oxygen in their blood for the first few weeks after birth.

"it's been known for some years that in very preterm babies (more than eight weeks early) treatment with caffeine not only reduces apnoea (pauses in breathing) and hypoxaemia (recurrent drops in oxygen saturation), but also improves long-term brain development.

"It's not known, however, if caffeine can do the same for late-preterm babies."

She was planning a multi-centre, randomised, placebo-controlled trial on
babies born between 34 and 36 weeks.

"If successful, the Latte trial will change the management and improve outcomes of late-preterm babies.

"As caffeine treatment is inexpensive, and long-term neurodevelopmental impairment is
costly, there is also the potential for an economic benefit for New Zealand's healthcare
system."

HRC chief executive Professor Kath McPherson said large studies like this could not
get off the ground without preliminary issues being addressed.

"We're committed to ensuring the greatest benefit for New Zealanders, and for New Zealand, from all of our research investment.

"Feasibility studies are a key pathway to allow researchers to innovate, but also address
potential deal-breakers or risks to a larger study."