Detroit scientists make breakthroughs in cerebral palsy research

Scientists in Detroit, Michigan have been greatly contributing to the wealth of research in the area of cerebral palsy treatment and preventionCerebral palsy is a lifelong condition that causes children to struggle with movement, balance and coordination.  Even mild cerebral palsy requires lifelong therapy.  Moderate to severe cerebral palsy can require multiple surgeries and very aggressive treatments and therapies to maximize the child’s potential for movement.  Sadly, some children have to use wheelchairs for the rest of their lives to get around.

Cerebral palsy is often caused by injury to the child’s brain during or near the time of birth.  Mismanaged conditions such as placental abruption, uterine rupture, nuchal cord, prolapsed umbilical cord, and failure to recognize fetal distress (oxygen deprivation) on the fetal heart rate monitor can cause a baby to have cerebral palsy.  Often, when a baby is being oxygen deprived, physicians fail to deliver her quickly enough by emergency C-section, and this delay often leads to hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) and cerebral palsy.

Given the potentially devastating effects of cerebral palsy, it is crucial to do everything possible to prevent the condition.  In the last few years, there have been incredible developments in research aiming to prevent cerebral palsy, and Detroit scientist have been at the forefront of this research.


Dr. Seetha Shankaran, a researcher form Detroit Medical Center (DMC) and Wayne State University (WSU) was the principle investigator on a study that examined the association between the severity of cerebral palsy and growth in a child at 6 –7 years of age.  Researchers found that term babies with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) who developed moderate / severe cerebral palsy had poorer growth, lower cognitive scores, and increased hospitalizations compared with children with no cerebral palsy.  This was true at 18 – 22 months of age and at 6 – 7 years of age.  These findings emphasize the need for close medical and nutrition management of children who develop cerebral palsy after having HIE.


Recently, researchers from DMC and WSU have discovered a method of improving cerebral palsy in rabbits.  When rabbits with cerebral palsy were given a special anti-inflammatory medication, these rabbits had improved motor skills and muscle coordination.  This groundbreaking medication is enhanced by nanotechnology, which is the use of very small supramolecules that are often the size of atoms.  Getting medication to cross the blood-brain barrier has always been a challenge, and nanotechnology addresses this problem.  In this study, nanotechnology was used to cross the blood brain barrier and carry the anti-inflammatory medication to very specific parts of the rabbits’ brains in their first day of life.  The cerebral palsy rabbits that received the nanotech-enhanced medication immediately improved and could walk and hop normally after approximately five days.

Nanotechnology also has the potential to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of all inflammatory processes in the brain, including brain infections in newborns that can cause cerebral palsy.

Dr. Robert Romero, a chief investigator in this study, said that these findings mean there is new hope for preventing cerebral palsy.


For over ten years, Dr. Shankaran of WSU / DMC has been working on research that proves that cooling a baby’s brain shortly after birth can help decrease brain injury and prevent permanent brain damage and death after a baby’s brain sustains an insult caused by oxygen deprivation.  Her research, which was published about 2 years ago, shows that when a baby is given hypothermia treatment (brain cooling) within 6 hours after suffering a brain injury caused by oxygen deprivation (HIE), the baby’s chances of dying or having permanent brain injury are significantly decreased.

Shankaran worked with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) on this groundbreaking research.  Thanks to this Detroit scientist’s hard work and devotion to hypothermia treatment research, hypothermia treatment is now the standard of care in hospitals worldwide for the treatment of HIE and prevention of cerebral palsy.


HIE is injury to the brain caused by oxygen deprivation.  This oxygen deprivation can be caused by a lack of oxygen in the baby’s blood or a lack of blood flow in the baby’s brain.

Cerebral palsy is a condition that affects brain development and leaves children struggling with movement and coordination.  It is a chronic childhood condition that can be caused by many different events.  Injury to the developing brain that occurs near or during the time of birth can result in the motor, sensory, and cognitive deficits seen in cerebral palsy.

The following conditions can cause cerebral palsy:

  • HIE. Oxygen deprivation can be caused by conditions such as uterine rupture, umbilical cord prolapse, nuchal cord, placental abruption, and failure to perform a timely C-section when the baby is in distress.
  • Untreated high bilirubin levels in a newborn (jaundice), which can cause a form of brain damage called kernicterus.


Cerebral palsy is a difficult area of law to pursue due to the complex nature of the disorder and the medical records that support it. The nationally recognized attorneys at Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers have decades of experience with cerebral palsy cases, and have won numerous awards for their advocacy.  To find out if you have a case, contact our firm to speak with an experienced cerebral palsy attorney.  We handle cases in Michigan, Texas, Ohio, Washington, D.C. and throughout the nation.  We have numerous multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements that attest to our success, and no fees are ever paid to our firm until we win your case.  Email or call us at 888-419-2229.


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