Local hospitals take part in first of its kind study on preemies and blood-boosters

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MURRAY, Utah – About one in 10 babies is born prematurely each year in the U.S. according to the March of Dimes, which puts those infants at risk for long-term health problems.

A new study suggests blood-boosters could even the playing field for preemies. Researchers say if a pediatricians inject blood-boosters called EPO and Darby, into preemies they’ll boost their IQ and brain development by the age of 4.

“Sometimes the drug makes a big difference for a short period of time. Other times, they make a big difference that lasts for a lifetime,” said Dr. Robert Christensen, Director of Neonatology Research at Intermountain Healthcare.

Christensen worked with other researchers on the study.

“It was done at four different centers, two were Intermountain Healthcare Centers, IMC and McKay Dee Hospital in Ogden,” Christensen said.

Researchers looked at 53 premature babies, weighing less than 3 pounds, born at hospitals in Utah, New Mexico and Colorado.

The low-birth weight babies who were given the medicine scored 12 points higher on IQ tests than preemies who didn’t get the medicine.

Even more impressive – kids who took the medicine scored as well as normal-weight babies in memory and impulsive behavior tests.

“One thing it showed right away within months of giving the drug, it was clear that those who received it had higher blood levels and needed fewer transfusions,” Christensen said.

Christensen said the drugs have no adverse side effects -- so far, the implications look promising.

“There have been two follow-up studies on this one that shows after two years these babies that have received the drugs have about a five-point higher IQ that difference or benefit or improvement has now persisted to Kindergarten age.”

If approved, the drugs could be standard of care for premature babies. The study was published in the journal, Pediatrics.