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Placental lesions affect illness severity and development in preterm born children

19 November 2014

One or more placental lesions are present in approximately 90% of all preterm births. These lesions lead to a higher illness severity in newborn babies and can affect the development of toddlers and schoolchildren. This is one of the findings of research carried out by Annemiek Roescher from the UMCG. It is the first in-depth study of the link between placental lesions and the subsequent health of children. Thanks to her research, the placenta may now be used as a vital source of information directly after the delivery, ultimately improving neonatal care. Annemiek Roescher will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 26 November.

The placenta is the link between a mother and her foetus during pregnancy. It plays a crucial role in foetal growth and development. Lesions in the placenta can impair the way it functions and cause problems for both mother and foetus. Placental lesions are known to play an important part in foetal death, but the relationship between placental lesions and adverse outcomes in preterm born children born is largely uncharted territory.

Roescher’s research involved studying the short-term impact of placental lesions on the health of newborn babies. She analysed illness severity during the first 24 hours using the Score of Neonatal Acute Physiology Perinatal Extension (SNAPPE), and during the first 2 weeks by examining the children’s spontaneous movement patterns. Her research showed that placental lesions resulting from both thrombosis in the foetal circulation and signs of oxygen deprivation affect illness severity in infants shortly after birth. These babies also demonstrated a poorer quality of spontaneous movements, which is an indicator for neurological problems in later life.

Roescher also examined the implications for the development of this group at the ages of 2-3 and 6-7 years. The vast majority of the children developed without neurological problems. The only placental lesions shown to affect subsequent development in toddlers and schoolchildren are those caused by infections ascending via the vagina. Both cognitive and motor development can be affected.

According to Roescher, her thesis provides insight into the possible causes of illness in newborn infants. ‘Paediatricians, obstetricians and midwives have limited appreciation of the potential benefit of placental findings for neonatal care. I hope that my study will raise awareness among neonatal healthcare professionals about the importance of the placenta to the care of newborn babies.’ She thinks that her work could help to reduce the severity of harm caused by placental lesions.

Annemiek Roescher (Luttenberg, 1985) studied Medicine at the University of Groningen. She carried out her research in the Department of Neonatology and the Research Institute BCN in the University Medical Center Groningen. Her thesis is entitled ‘Placental Lesions and Outcome in Preterm Born Children’. She now works as a resident paediatrician at the Martini Hospital.

Source: press release UMCG/RUG

Last modified:20 November 2014 09.08 a.m.
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