International recognition for cerebral palsy research

Professor Alastair MacLennan and Dr Catherine Gibson.

Professor Alastair MacLennan and Dr Catherine Gibson.
Full Image (98.14K)

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

South Australian research which found a link between cerebral palsy and exposure to herpes viruses has been recognised as among the most significant of the past year by an international panel of neuroscientists.

Work by the South Australian Cerebral Palsy Research Group, a joint initiative of the University of Adelaide and the Women's and Children's Hospital, is included in the latest progress report of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, which highlights the top findings in brain research.

The research, which was earlier published in the British Medical Journal, supports the theory that exposure to certain viral infections shortly before and after birth can trigger brain damage and the development of cerebral palsy.

The group, led by Professor Alastair MacLennan, the Head of the University's Discipline of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, has since found common genetic susceptibility factors in children with cerebral palsy that may increase their vulnerability to exposure to infection that can damage the developing brain before and after birth.

The research was the only work on cerebral palsy to be recognised in the prestigious Dana Alliance report. Research scientist Dr Catherine Gibson was awarded her PhD for her contribution to the project and subsequently was named South Australia's Young Investigator of the Year for 2006.

The study involved 443 children with cerebral palsy and 883 control babies born to Caucasian mothers between 1986 and 1999. Small dried blood samples taken within a few days of birth were used to test for the presence of neurotropic viruses, a group of viruses including the herpes virus, which can all cross the placenta and infect the fetus.

Exposure to viral infection was common in all newborn babies, especially in preterm babies, implying that infection before birth may also be linked to preterm delivery. Herpes group B viruses were found more often in babies who were later diagnosed with cerebral palsy than in control babies. In fact, the risk of cerebral palsy was nearly doubled with exposure to herpes group B viruses.

"This is the first study to positively link viral exposure during pregnancy with cerebral palsy," Dr Gibson said. "However, only a few of the fetuses that were exposed developed CP, and this suggests that some are more genetically susceptible. We are investigating this." Further studies also are investigating the possible causes of the link.

Cerebral palsy is a permanent and often serious brain disorder which causes abnormal control of body movement or posture. Its causes are largely unknown and currently it cannot be prevented.

The US-based Dana Alliance is a non-profit alliance of more than 260 leading neuroscientists committed to raising public awareness about the progress and promise of brain research.


Contact Details

Emeritus Professor Alastair MacLennan
Head, Cerebral Palsy Research Group, Robinson Research Institute
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 1337
Mobile: +61 (0)400 383 144

Dr Catherine Gibson
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Cerebral Palsy Group
Robinson Institute
The University of Adelaide
Business: + 61 8 8161 7616 (Thursdays only)
Mobile: 0417 849 718

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762