Enbrel Use Shortly After Birth Could Be Effective Cerebral Palsy Treatment: Study

Early detection of brain inflammation, followed by Enbrel treatment, prevented the development of cerebral palsy in some preterm baby sheep, researchers found

New research suggests the drug Enbrel may be an effective treatment for preterm newborns who have suffered brain damage, potentially mitigating the effects of cerebral palsy.

Enbrel (etanercept) is a Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) Blocker, which has been approved for treatment of various auto immune disorders, such as Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, plaque psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and juvenile idopathic arthritis (previously known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis).

In a study recently published in the medical journal Brain, researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand report that giving the drug to newborn sheep three days after they suffered a cystic white matter injury (WMI) almost completely prevented severe injury from developing. WMI is linked to cerebral palsy and severe neurodevelopmental disability in newborns.

White matter injury in premature infants is a signal of potential neurodevelopmental problems and the later diagnosis of cerebral palsy (CP), which is a childhood-onset condition motor disability that impacts more than 700,000 people in the United States. Symptoms of cerebral palsy leave a child with life-long complications, including exaggerated reflexes, developmental delays, involuntary motions, and floppy or rigid limbs. The disability is permanent and impacts an individual’s ability to move, maintain balance, and maintain posture throughout their life.

Complications during pregnancy and delivery, which result in brain birth injuries, are often identified as the cause of cerebral palsy, and families have been awarded millions in damages through medical malpractice lawsuits where cerebral palsy was caused by a mistake that could have been avoided, and more than a third of cerebral palsy cases are linked to preterm births.

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In this latest study, the researchers found that severe brain injuries which lead to cerebral palsy over time can be detected early as intense inflammation before permanent injuries develop.

Enbrel, an anti-inflammatory drug, was given to preterm baby sheep three days after they suffered oxygen deprivation and after brain inflammation was detected. The researchers found that Enbrel side effects appeared to almost completely prevent severe WMI from developing after a three-week recovery period.

The researchers noted that further studies are needed to confirm the findings, optimize the dose and timing, and to investigate the best way to deliver the drug into the newborn’s system.

“Although neuroinflammation has been widely hypothesized to contribute to the injurious processes of the tertiary phase, to the best of our knowledge this is the first direct evidence that modulation of neuroinflammation within the tertiary phase alone can improve severe WMI,” the researchers noted. “This striking finding raises the possibility that cystic WMI in preterm infants might realistically be preventable.”


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