(Medical News Today) – The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that an estimated 15 million babies are born preterm (before 37 weeks of gestation). Around 1 million children die each year as a result of preterm birth complications, with many more facing long-term developmental disabilities.
Preterm birth can cause brain damage and incomplete maturation of the brain, potentially leading to attention and learning difficulties and visual and hearing problems. It can particularly affect the white matter – the part of the brain that is responsible for spreading information within the central nervous system.
High-dose erythropoietin (EPO) is a hormone that is commonly used to treat anemia in kidney disease patients. It is also given to preterm infants as it can reduce the need for blood transfusions. EPO is infamously known for its usage as a performance-enhancing drug by athletes – particularly in competitive cyclists during the 1990s.
Recent studies have found that EPO has a neuroprotective quality – that it can help protect the central nervous system from injury or degeneration. As a result, the effect of high-dose EPO for neuroprotection in preterm infants was investigated as the first part of a major Swiss study on cognitive development.