PCRM Research Innovation Award Announced: Leading the Way in Birth Defects Research
PCRM’s 1998 Research Innovation Award goes to Diana Schendel, Ph.D., of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose work opens the door for preventing many cases of cerebral palsy and mental retardation.
Dr. Schendel and her colleagues studied very low-birth-weight infants and noticed that brain hemorrhages were much less frequent if their mothers had had preeclampsia, a condition of late-term high blood pressure and related conditions. It turned out that the decisive factor was the magnesium sulfate therapy used to treat preeclampsia.
They then looked to see whether magnesium sulfate was associated with reduced rates of brain injury in infants. Indeed, it appears that magnesium sulfate could prevent nearly two-thirds of cerebral palsy and almost half of mental retardation in these tiny infants. Further studies are underway to confirm these findings and identify other protective factors.
The fight against birth defects can often be frustrating. The relative rarity of major malformations (approximately 3 to 4 of every 1,000 live births) makes causes and preventive measures difficult to uncover. Innovative, human-based research such as that of Dr. Schendel leads the way to practical solutions to otherwise devastating problems.