Can intranasal application of breastmilk cure severe IVH?

Can intranasal application of breastmilk cure severe IVH?

It isn’t often in Neonatology these days that something truly innovative comes along. While the study I will be discussing is certainly small I think it represents the start of something bigger that we will see evolve over the coming years.

There is no question that the benefits of mother’s own milk are extensive and include such positive outcomes as improved cognition in preterm infants and reductions in NEC. The benefits come from the immunological properties as well as the microbiome modifying nature of this source of nutrition and have been discussed many times over. Mother’s own milk contains a couple of very special things that form the basis of the reason for the study to be presented.

What are neurotrophins and stem cells?

Before discussing the study it is important to understand what these two classes of molecules and cells are capable of. Neurotrophins are molecules that have the capability of promoting growth and survival of neural cells. Included in this class are EGF, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, glial derived neurotrophic factor, nerve growth factor, insulin-like growth factor-1, and hepatic growth factor. It turns out that not only are these found in high concentrations in breast milk but that a woman who produces breast milk at early gestational ages has higher amounts of these substances in her milk. Pretty convenient that substances promoting development of the brain and survival of brain cells increase the earlier you deliver! Stem cells are pluripotent cells meaning that they can develop into pretty much any cell type that they need to in the body. This would come in handy for example if you needed some new cells in the brain after a neurological insult. These are also present in mother’s milk and in fact can represent as much as 30% of the population of cells in breast milk.

The Nasal Cavity and the Brain

Clearly, the distance from the nasal cavity to the brain is relatively short. Without going into exhaustive detail it has been demonstrated in animal models that provision of medications intranasally can reach the brain without traversing the blood stream. This affords the opportunity to provide substances to the neonate through the nasal cavity in the hopes that it will reach the brain and achieve the desired effect.  When you think about it, newborns when feeding have contact between the whole nasopharyngeal cavity and milk (as evidenced by milk occasionally dripping out of the nose when feeding) so using an NG as we do in the NICU bypasses this part of the body.  Is that a good thing?

Intranasal application of breast milk

Researchers in Germany led by Dr. Kribs published an early experience with this strategy in their article Intranasal breast milk for premature infants with severe intraventricular hemorrhage—an observation. In this paper the strategy;follows; 2 × 0.1 ml of his or her mother’s milk 3 to 8 times a day (0.6 to 1.6 ml total per day). The breast milk was freshly expressed, which means the milk was used within 2 h after expression. The daily application started within the first 5 days of life and was continued for at least 28 days to a maximum of 105 days.

The outcome of interest was whether the severe IVH would improve over time compared to a cohort of infants with severe IVH who did not receive this treatment. Importantly this was not a randomized trial and the numbers are small. A total of 31 infants were included with 16 receiving this treatment and 15 not. The two groups were compared with the results as follows.

The results don’t reach statistical significance but there is a trend at the bottom of the table above to having less progressive ventricular dilatation and surgery for the same.  Again this is a very small study so take the results with a grain of salt!

Is this practice changing?  Not yet but it does beg the question of what a properly designed RCT might look like.  The authors predict what it might look like with a sham nasal application versus fresh mother’s milk. I do wonder though if it may become a study that would be hard to recruit into as when families are approached and the potential benefit explained it may be hard to get them to say anything other than “Just give my baby the breast milk!”  Such is the challenge with RCTs so it may be that a larger retrospective study will have to do first. Regardless, be on the lookout for this research as I suspect we may see more studies such as this coming and soon!

* Featured image from the open access paper.  (There couldn’t be a better picture of this out there!)

 

Caffeine. Give it and give it early.

Caffeine. Give it and give it early.

Use of caffeine in the NICU as a treatment for apnea of prematurity is a topic that has certainly seen it’s fair share of coverage on this blog. Just when you think there is an aspect of treatment with caffeine that hasn’t been covered before, along comes a new paper to change my mind.

The Caffeine for Apnea of Prematurity study or CAP, demonstrated that caffeine given between 3-10 days of age reduced the incidence of BPD in those treated compared to those receiving placebo. As an added benefit, in follow-up studies of these patients there appeared to be a benefit to neurodevelopmental outcomes as well at 18-21 months but this was lost by school age with groups being equivalent. In recent years evidence has mounted that starting caffeine earlier in the time course (<3 days and in many cases in the first hour after birth) has led to less need for intubation and BPD. What has really not been known though is whether the use of caffeine in this way might have any long term benefits aside from these short term outcomes.

Dr. Abhay Lodha from Calgary and a group of researchers led by Prakesh Shah from the Canadian Neonatal Network using our robust Canadian network data have tried to answer this with their paper Early Caffeine Administration and Neurodevelopmental Outcomes in Preterm Infants

The group studied were <29 weeks’ gestation born between April 2009 and September 2011 and admitted to Canadian Neonatal Network centres. As defined in the paper “Neonates who received caffeine were divided into early- (received within 2 days of birth) and late-caffeine (received after 2 days of birth) groups. The primary outcome was significant neurodevelopmental impairment, defined as cerebral palsy, or a Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development, Third Edition composite score of <70 on any component, hearing aid or cochlear implant, or bilateral visual impairment at 18 to 24 months’ corrected age.”

There were 2018 neonates included in the analysis with 1545 in the early group and 563 in the late. It is worth noting that there were 473 infants lost to follow-up meaning that there was about an 80% follow-up rate. Looking at the characteristics of those infants lost to follow-up there were no striking differences that one would expect between them and the group followed.

What did they find?

The odds of BPD (aOR 0.61; 95% CI 0.45–0.81), PDA (aOR 0.46; 95% CI 0.34–0.62), and Severe Neurologic Injury – parenchymal injury or GR III/IV IVH or PVL (aOR 0.66; 95% CI 0.45–0.97) were reduced in the early- caffeine group. The primary outcome was also found to be significantly different as per the table below demonstrating the odds after logistic regression analysis.

So early caffeine seems to be good. Is that all then?

I am very happy to see these results but a few questions remain. Before we get too enthusiastic, I find myself thinking back to the early 2000s after the initial CAP results showed an apparent difference in outcome. The question is whether the reduction in odds seen here for the primary outcome will persist as these children age. Will we see a tendency for the differences to vanish as these children enter school age? I suspect we might but that doesn’t mean all is lost here. What the authors have demonstrated clearly is that early caffeine is not harmful as there is no suggestion of those infants exposed to caffeine so shortly after birth fare worse than those treated later.

Also as the authors state, what isn’t clear is how caffeine works to decrease the risk of developmental impairment. In the discussion they offer some insightful thoughts as to what may be at play and I agree that certainly an anti-inflammatory effect may be responsible for some of the effect. I do wonder though if one could tie the reductions to the lower likelihood of BPD. Development of BPD has been shown many times over to be associated with worse developmental outcomes. Aside from the anti-inflammatory effect mentioned, could the avoidance of early intubation and therefore reduced risk of BPD from positive pressure ventilation be the reason?

In the end if the results persistent into school age, the reason won’t really matter and I hope it does. Will see what happens when we revisit this cohort in a few years but in the meantime I think this paper certainly confirms in my mind the need to give caffeine and make sure it’s provided early!