Peptide shows promise of protecting infant brains

  • Brain researchers investigate promising peptide compound to protect the brain of newborn babies
  • Potential treatment and therapy for some babies at risk of cerebral palsy and other permanent types of brain damage
  • Project funded by Telethon Perth Children’s Hospital Research Fund grant

Western Australian researchers believe they have identified a compound that could protect the brain cells of newborns who have had a stroke-like event around the time of birth.

Their confidence stems from results achieved with a peptide dubbed ‘R18’.

R18 has been used in trials with brain cell cultures and pre-clinical models that mimic the stroke-like condition, known as hypoxic-ischaemic encephalopathy (HIE).

HIE affects three in every 1,000 live births, with up to 15 to 25 per cent of affected babies dying and an additional 25 to 60 per cent sustaining permanent brain damage, resulting in cerebral palsy, epilepsy or learning disabilities.

The research is being led by Associate Professor Bruno Meloni, a neuroscientist at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and the Perron Institute for Neurological and Translational Science.

The current treatment for HIE is hypothermia, which involves actively lowering the body temperature of the affected baby to 33-34ºC and keeping it at that temperature for 72 hours, but the procedure has limitations.

The WA research team began investigating the potential of R18 to treat neonatal HIE, after it was shown to provide neuroprotective properties in pre-clinical models of adult stroke.

With its grant, the research team will build on existing work and aim to determine if R18 provides an additional benefit when combined with hypothermia.

The rates of HIE are even higher in developing countries and Australia’s rural and remote communities.

The researchers are hopeful that R18 will eventually become a therapy for treating neonatal HIE, either in combination with hypothermia or – in instances where hypothermia is not available – as a standalone treatment.

The Telethon Perth Children’s Hospital Research Fund (TPCHRF) is a collaboration of the Department of Health and Channel 7 Telethon Trust that provides funding for WA research, which focuses on the health and wellbeing of children and adolescents.

The study is among 13 projects that will share in $3.5 million in the sixth round of the Telethon Perth Children’s Hospital Research Fund.

Visit the Department of Health’s website for the full list of TPCHRF recipients.

As stated by Health Minister Roger Cook:

“This project is a credit to Associate Professor Meloni and his team and an example of the innovative, world-class research taking place inside Western Australia’s public health system.

“The lifetime healthcare costs associated with treating a single patient with cerebral palsy are estimated at $1.2 million to $1.3 million, but the human cost of such a condition is incalculable.

“As we prepare to embrace Channel 7’s Telethon this weekend, research like this is the perfect reminder of how the money you donate dramatically improves the lives of WA’s sick kids. I’m looking forward to doing my bit for Telethon 2018 when I saddle up and join the cycle team in the HBF 24-hour fitness challenge at PCEC.

“Communities across WA can be very proud of Telethon, it is the highest fundraising telethon per capita in the world and I urge all Western Australians to be part of this iconic, fun and hugely worthwhile event.”

/Public Release.View in full here.