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Severely premature babies: More survive being born early  - EPICure Studies

19 December 2012


The EPICure studies led by Professor Neil Marlow here at the IfWH and his colleague Professor Kate Costeloe at the Homerton Hospital have been in the news recently. The media frenzy (for press releases and links to media items please see followed the publication of two milestone papers by the EPICure study team in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), relating the survival rates and outcomes of extremely premature babies born before 26 weeks gestation in the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

The papers represent the culmination of several years of data collection and analysis by a multidisciplinary team lead by Professors Marlow and Costeloe with funding by the Medical Research Council. The reports compare the survival and outcomes of two distinct cohorts of extremely premature children. One includes children born at between 22 and 25 weeks in 1995 and the other includes children born between 22 and 25 weeks in 2006.

The recent reports in BMJ highlight the fact that The number of babies born before 27 weeks’ gestation who survive and leave hospital increased between 1995 and 2006, but the proportion who experience serious health problems into childhood remained largely unchanged’*. Babies born before 27 weeks rely entirely on medical care and ‘face a battle for survival’ where ‘many go on to live with long-term health problems such as lung conditions, learning difficulties and cerebral palsy.’ This comes with the knowledge that ‘the rates of premature birth are on the rise in many European countries and are particularly high in the UK.’

The EPICure studies have pioneered the long term follow up of extremely premature children providing crucial data that can inform and influence clinical practice at birth and guide medical assistance and education programs throughout the life of the affected individuals. In the wake of EPICure, similar studies measuring survival rates and outcomes for extremely premature babies have recently started in other European countries such as Sweden and France among others. The EPICure team welcomes this international effort and in fact maintains close ties with these European counterparts and hopes to start a closer collaboration with the French study EPIPAGE2 in the New Year.

* In Italics are quotes from the press release.

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