When a child’s born too soon, their lungs are often underdeveloped. As a result, the brain experiences damaging oxygen deprivation, killing cells. A brain injury of this type affects development of the infant’s sensory and motor nerves, causing lasting difficulties with learning and movement. By studying this kind of damage in a mouse model, the scientists knew that a molecule called EGF is crucial for the brain’s white matter cell development. Now they've tested whether increasing the amount of EGF in the cells can help repair damage. After birth, many cells have died in the suffocated white matter pictured on the left. But when EGF is enhanced damaged cells recover – more of the red-stained nerve fibres are visible (right) – looking like healthy brain tissue. The EGF was delivered by nasal spray. It could be a simple way of treating affected children in future.
Written by Helen Thomas