Australian first trial at Mater improving quality of life for newborns with ‘HIE’

Tuesday 18 July 2017

An Australian first trial lead by Mater Researcher A/Prof Helen Liley is investigating more effective treatment options for babies born with Neonatal Hypoxic Ischaemic Encephalopathy (HIE), which can cause brain injury and death.

Neonatal Hypoxic Ischaemic encephalopathy—or ‘HIE’—occurs when a baby does not receive enough blood or oxygen before or during birth. This lack of oxygen can destroy vital cells in a newborn baby’s brain. While about half the babies with signs of moderate or severe HIE after birth will go on to do well, almost half will die or go on to have long term disability, even with the best state-of-the-art treatment.

But the NHMRC funded Preventing Adverse Outcomes of Neonatal Encephalopathy (PAEAN) trial, the first of its kind in Australia, is offering parents hope by improving outcomes for babies worldwide. The trial at Mater, led by Mater’s neonatology specialist and researcher Associate Professor Helen Liley, has recruited close to 20 patients at Mater and others throughout 18 sites around the country and New Zealand.

A/Prof Liley said the trial aimed to find new ways to reduce the rate of death and disability of babies suffering from HIE.

“The condition is a concern worldwide and this research aims to develop a more effective treatment option for HIE, to prevent death and brain injury which can cause severe disabilities for babies as they grow, like cerebral palsy.

“For babies who meet the criteria of HIE they will usually be given hypothermia (cooling) therapy to reduce the risk of long-term problems, however, the treatment doesn’t help all babies’ brains to recover fully, with more than one third of babies treated this way still living with long-term problems.

“The randomised PAEAN study involves hypothermia therapy combined with a high dose of Erythropoietin, a natural hormone, which shows promise as a treatment for HIE when given to babies in their first week of life.”

All babies in the trial receive the cooling therapy, and as it’s a blinded, randomised trial, they either receive the hormone or a placebo. The trial follows patients—and their progress—up until two years of age.

The Australian-first trial received additional funding after being named the recipient of the $500,000 donation from Golden Casket.

A/Prof Liley said the generous donation would benefit not only seriously ill babies at Mater, but potentially babies who suffer from HIE globally.

PAEAN PLUS HIE and Neuroprotection Symposium

A/Prof Liley and her team of researchers and clinicians will also be running the upcoming PAEAN PLUS HIE and Neuroprotection Symposium to be held at Mater on 10-11 August 2017.

The symposium, chaired by Associate Professor Liley, will provide attendees with key updates on the PAEAN study as well a valuable opportunity to hear from leading experts in HIE in how to protect the brain, neonatal seizures and seizure management and the long term needs of the babies after they leave the neonatal unit.

Attendees will also hear from special guest speaker, Mrs Jenn Hooper, a community representative on a NZ government Task Force for neonatal encephalopathy, and mother of a baby who suffered this problem, who is going to join us and speak about this disorder and its aftermath from the perspective of parents.

The two day event will also educate doctors and nurses to better identify babies who might be eligible for the study (and who potentially might benefit from the study treatment), and provide valuable information and resources to enable them to effectively run the PAEAN trial at each site.

To register or find out more about the PAEAN Plus HIE & Neuroprotection Symposium and combined investigator meeting please visit