Vital research into the effects of premature birth throughout childhood

Results of a follow-up study into babies born extremely prematurely was published last week (Thursday 6 January) in the New England Journal of Medicine.

EPICure is the first study in the UK that has followed a group of babies born extremely prematurely at 25 or fewer weeks gestation in 1995 and assessed them at 2 ½ and 6 ½ years of age.

The 2 ½ year assessment was published in 2000 and the follow-up results assessing the children at early school age have just been published.

Professor Dieter Wolke, one of the authors of this research, began his work while at the Department of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and he has since moved on to the University of Bristol and is Director of the Jacobs Foundation based in Switzerland. He is still a weekend resident in St. Albans where his two children continue to go to school.

Professor Dieter Wolke and Professor Marlow from the University of Nottingham were jointly responsible for the 6 ½ year old assessments. This study is of vital importance to give parents some guidance as to the possible future for this small group of babies.

Professor Dieter Wolke said: “This is the first study worldwide that has documented all extremely premature births for a whole country and followed the children into childhood. The findings provide scientific evidence that informs parents, experts and ethical and policy discussions on neonatal and follow-up care for infants born at the limits of survival in this country and worldwide.”

The 2 ½ year assessment showed that 50% of the surviving babies available for follow-up had no disabilities, 25% had some level of disability and 25% had severe disability. The latest results from 241 of the surviving children assessed at early school age, found that learning difficulties could be detected more accurately than at the earlier assessment.

It found that 20% of children had no problems, 22% had severe disability such as severe cerebral palsy (children not walking), very low cognitive scores, blindness or profound deafness, 12% had cerebral palsy with severe or moderate motor disability, 24% had moderate disability such as cerebral palsy (but walking), IQ/cognitive scores in the special needs range, lesser degrees of visual or hearing impairment and 34% had milder problems such as wearing glasses or low/normal cognitive scores.

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