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Further cementing its status as a world-class research institution, Michigan State University is leading an innovative study on the causes of cerebral palsy. Noted epidemiologist Nigel Paneth and his team of experts will be conducting a two-year study of the insidious disorder using a federal grant of nearly $2 million.

The study will take advantage of Michigan‘s newborn genetic screening program, which has been collecting data on infants since 1986. By law, newborns are screened for approximately 50 diseases. The child’s parents can then agree to have the samples examined for scientific purposes. Advancements in genetic screening over the past 24 years means that these small blood samples can be utilized in ways completely unimaginable in 1986.

Paneth‘s team will work closely with the renowned Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Other partners will include the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota, and two other Grand Rapids-area hospitals.

One well-known cause of cerebral palsy that is not in dispute is an acute intrapartum hypoxic-ischemic event. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy resulting in cerebral palsy is almost certain to occur if the following criteria are present:

  1. Evidence of a metabolic acidosis in fetal umbilical cord arterial blood obtained at delivery (pH <7 and base deficit =12 mmol/L);

  2. Early onset of severe or moderate neonatal encephalopathy in infants born at 34 or more weeks of gestation;

  3. Cerebral palsy of the spastic quadriplegic or dyskinetic type;

  4. Exclusion of other identifiable etiologies such as trauma, coagulation disorders, infectious conditions, or genetic disorders;

Cerebral palsy can also occur due to other factors, such as an acute traumatic insult or sustained fetal bradycardia.

Hopefully this groundbreaking research will help scientists and doctors better understand the causes of cerebral palsy. In time, these lessons might lead to a cure for this potentially devastating condition.

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