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Cheap Sugar Gel Could Protect Premature Babies from Brain Damage

Update Date: Sep 26, 2013 09:42 AM EDT

When babies are born prematurely due to complications, they become at risk of many health conditions. Around one in 10 premature newborns and up to 15 percent of all healthy babies will suffer from dangerously low blood sugar levels. If this condition is left untreated, it could lead to permanent brain damage. Fortunately, a new study found that a cheap and effective treatment in the form of a sugar gel could be the answer.

For this study, researchers from New Zealand recruited 242 newborns in order to test the effects of dextrose gel. A low blood sugar level is usually treated with extra feeding and frequent blood tests. This method of treatment often involves sending the infant to the intensive care unit in order to receive intravenous glucose when the levels fail to rise. The researchers randomly administered 40 percent dextrose gel or a placebo gel to the group of hypoglycemic infants. Up to six doses were given over the course of two days.

The researchers found that using the dextrose gel, which can be administered by rubbing it along the inside cheek of a baby, was effective in reducing the likelihood of treatment failure by almost 50 percent when compared to the placebo gel. In addition, the babies that received the dextrose gel were less likely to need intensive care treatment for hypoglycemia. The infants that received the dextrose gel also required less formula feeds. The researchers are optimistic that their findings could influence the use of dextrose pills. These pills cost around two dollars each, which is highly affordable.

"Our study is the first report in babies showing that dextrose gel massaged into the inside of the cheek is more effective than feeding alone for treating hypoglycemia, and is safe and simple to use", explained study leader Professor Jane Harding from the University of Auckland in New Zealand reported by Medical Xpress. "Because this treatment is inexpensive and simple to administer, it should be considered for first-line management of late preterm and term hypoglycemic babies in the first 48 [hours] after birth... [Dextrose gel] can easily be made in the hospital pharmacy, and is stable at room temperature. Therefore, the gel could also be useful in resource-poor settings where hypoglycemia is common and underdiagnosed."

"This is a cost-effective treatment and could reduce admissions to intensive care services, which are already working at high capacity levels," said the chief executive of premature baby charity Bliss, Andy Cole reported by BBC News. Cole was not a part of the study. "While the early results of this research show benefits to babies born with low blood sugars, it is clear there is more research to be done to implement this treatment."

The study was published in The Lancet.

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