I couldn’t click fast enough when the news came up in my Google alerts—it seemed unbelievable. Scientists at the Children’s Hospital of Chicago have demonstrated that it’s possible to screen early markers of cerebral palsy in preemies through a simple blood test.
The scientists found that a kind of molecules called microRNAs are changed in babies who develop abnormal muscle tone. Looking for these microRNAs in preemies—who are at risk for cerebral palsy—could help them get the therapy they need early on. The results of the research were published in the journal Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation—International.
“If our promising results are confirmed in larger, multicenter studies, screening preemies for microRNA biomarkers shortly after birth could allow intervention before cerebral palsy manifests, typically at 18 months to 2 years of age,” says senior author Maria Dizon, MD, a neonatologist. “With earlier diagnosis and therapy, the chances of achieving better motor function are greater since the central nervous system is most plastic in infants.”
I know this well from Max. The stroke he had at birth put him at risk for cerebral palsy. The famous pediatric neurologist who consulted with us told us to get him therapy galore, and we did. We tried traditional ones—PT, OT, speech, aquatic therapy—along with craniosacral therapy and hyperbaric oxygen treatment. At six years old, Max got a stem cell transplant. Our motto: If it couldn’t hurt him and it might help, we’d try it. He’s doing pretty well for himself, likely due to a combination of the therapies and good old luck.
When I write about things like this, I think of adults with CP I’ve met online. Some resist the thought of preventing or curing CP; they own theirs and consider CP an integral part of who they are, in the same way that I hope Max does someday. I know now that cerebral palsy is not some grim life sentence: Max has a good life with his cerebral palsy, not in spite of it. Yet as his mom, I have been driven since the day we found out he had a stroke to help him the best I can. If I can make his muscles move easier, if I can get him to him to trip less, if I can help him articulate the words he so badly wants to say, I will. And if when he was born I had been in a situation where a blood test for CP might have benefitted his future, I would have been grateful for it.
I so hope preemies will benefit from this groundbreaking research.