New twist on Liggins breakthrough that helps babies worldwide

There’s a new twist to a New Zealand scientific breakthrough that’s helping babies all over the world.

Doctors already massage sugar gel inside the mouths of babies with hypoglycaemia to prevent risks including brain damage, as a result of the Liggins Institute’s groundbreaking 2013 “Sugar Babies Study”.

Now, Liggins scientists led by Distinguished Professor Jane Harding have gone one step further, showing how sugar gel can be used to avoid babies getting hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) in the first place.

One of the medical profession’s key sources for evidence on clinical treatments, the Cochrane Library, is publishing a Cochrane Review detailing the results of the Liggins research.

Professor Harding says she’s thrilled the preventative treatment, never studied before, is set to help even more babies around the globe. “Clinicians need to weigh the evidence for themselves, but it seems compelling to me.”

At-risk babies are those born preterm, smaller or larger than usual, or whose mothers have diabetes.

The Review estimates that giving dextrose gel to 100 at-risk late preterm and term infants will prevent about six cases of hypoglycaemia and probably prevent five cases of major neurological disability, without increasing the risk of adverse events.

A major study, dubbed hPOD, involved rubbing either the sugar gel, or a placebo, into the inside of the cheek of at-risk newborns an hour after birth.

At-risk babies – up to a third of all born - are those born preterm, smaller or larger than usual, and babies whose mothers have diabetes.

Researchers believed the inexpensive gel could prevent babies from getting hypoglycaemia, which is the only readily preventable cause of brain damage in infancy. (hPOD stands for hypoglycaemia Prevention with Oral Dextrose.)

Distinguished Professor Jane Harding

Neonatal hypoglycaemia affects one in six babies.

Left untreated, it can cause developmental delay, brain damage and lowered education outcomes later in life.

As a result of the earlier Liggins breakthrough, Dextrose gel as a treatment for babies with hypoglycaemia is recommended in many countries, including Aotearoa, the UK, Australia, Sweden, Canada and the US.

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