NPR reports that a recent meeting of the Society for Neuroscience discussed why brain damage occurs in premature births.
Research has revealed that the most common cause of brain injury in premature infants is a lack of oxygen in the days and weeks after birth. Apparently, the lack of oxygen damages white matter, which provides the "communication highways" that carry messages around the brain and to distant parts of the body. The babies at greatest risk of this sort of brain damage are those born after as little as six months of gestation.
This lack of oxygen appears to damage the most common type of white matter, myelin, which acts like an insulator around the nerve fibers that carry messages in the brain and nervous system. Without enough myelin, short circuits can prevent these messages from getting through. Evidence of white matter damage was initially found by studying brains from premature infants who died, but recently the researchers have been able to assess premature infants using a special incubator designed to fit in an MRI scanner.
There is no definitive way to prevent or treat this damage, but current prevention efforts include everything from the magnetic stimulation of certain areas of the brain to temporarily lowering the body temperature of premature infants to protect brain tissue.
As Tennessee birth injury attorneys, it is wonderful to see this research begin to bear fruit. Hopefully, the science in this area will continue to develop and brain injuries will be prevented or, if they occur, treated in a way that will reduce the impact of the injury on the child and the child’s parents.