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Children's National Neuroscience Targets Brain Injury Complications

Washington, DC –A team led by Vittorio Gallo, PhD, Director of the Center for Neuroscience Research at Children’s National Health System and professor of pediatrics at the George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), have uncovered direct evidence that procedures targeting a cell receptor within a certain time frame can prevent complications linked to brain injuries among premature children. The study’s first author, Joseph Scafidi, MD, is a child neurologist at Children’s National, a principal investigator at the Center for Neuroscience Research, and an assistant professor of neurology at GW SMHS.    

Their findings have led to a greater understanding of perinatal complications that have until now been poorly understood, the researchers said. The treatment is feasible for premature children with diffuse white matter injury that results in chronic neurodevelopmental impairments.

The developments were reported in a recent article, “Intranasal Epidermal Growth Factor Treatment Rescues Neonatal Brain Injury” published in Nature.  

“We are very committed to advancing our understanding of perinatal brain injury, with the ultimate goal of developing new therapeutic approaches that will improve functional recovery in premature children,” Gallo said.

Gallo praised the research as the result of a multidisciplinary team effort between investigators at Children’s National, Center for Neuroscience Research, Yale University School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

The study focused on treating perinatal hypoxia related to immature lung development in brain injuries among premature babies. Chronic neonatal hypoxia is caused by insufficient gas exchange from poor lung development.

A majority of premature children exhibit decreased gray and white matter volumes in the brain because premature birth has a negative impact on the structural and functional integrity of the brain. Specifically, the cell protein in question is known as epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), located on the cell surface, and is often targeted in efforts to diminish tumors. The cells are known as oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs). A lack of OPCs or a failure in their maturation can impair recovery of neurological functions.

“Our study provides direct evidence that targeting EGFR in OPCs at a specific time after injury is clinically feasible and applicable for the treatment of premature children with white matter injury,” the researchers wrote in Nature.  As of now, they added: “There are no clinically relevant treatments available that improve function in the growing population of very preterm infants with neonatal brain injury.”

Their findings “demonstrate the considerable complexity of gray and white matter injury observed in premature brain and identify a need for global intervention,” Gallo said.

Contact: Emily Hartman or Joe Cantlupe at 202-476-4500.