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As our team of fetal-neonatal neurology specialists cares for our young patients, we constantly strive to improve treatment for children with neurological conditions. All of the neurologists in our group are actively engaged in research that helps us diagnose fetal and neonatal conditions quickly and accurately, understand them deeply, and develop more effective treatments.

Limiting brain damage from hypoxia-ischemia

Janet Soul, MD, is working to improve the treatment and outcome of babies who have an interruption in their supply of oxygen and/or blood flow around the time of birth, a condition called hypoxia-ischemia. When babies experience hypoxia-ischemia, they can develop a brain injury that results in serious neurological problems later in life, such as cerebral palsy or learning difficulties. Together with colleagues in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Boston Children’s Hospital, Soul developed a hypothermia protocol to treat these babies in order to prevent or minimize brain damage.

Babies who have experienced hypoxic-ischemic injury can suffer from seizures. Because many existing anti-seizure medicines do not work well for newborns, Soul is leading a clinical trial of a new seizure medicine for them. This study, which is supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, is the first randomized trial of a new seizure medicine to be tested in newborns in decades. The scientific research leading up to this clinical trial was also done at Boston Children’s, in the laboratory of neurologist Frances Jensen, MD.

Understanding and treating periventricular leukomalacia

Joseph Volpe, MD, has made his life’s work the study of periventricular leukomalacia (also called white matter injury), a condition that is responsible for many cognitive, behavioral, and motor disabilities that affect children born prematurely. Volpe’s work has helped doctors understand which infants are at risk for this sort of brain injury and how it could be prevented or treated. Volpe is considered by many to have founded the field of neonatal neurology. His textbook, Neurology of the newborn, is a standard in the field.

Children who develop periventricular leukomalacia often have problems with their vision that is related to the brain injury instead of a problem with the eyes. This “cerebral visual impairment” can be difficult to diagnose and treat. It is important to identify this problem because these types of visual impairments can affect a child’s ability to learn in school. Janet Soul, MD, is conducting a research study of cerebral visual impairment in children who were born prematurely.