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Hope for catching infants with CP early



A new prognostic tool may help identify infants with cerebral palsy (CP) earlier, allowing them to receive therapies to improve later outcomes.

Researchers from Canada used 12 clinical variables to predict the condition. The tool accurately predicted 75% of CP cases. The study was published in JAMA Pediatrics.

The prevalence of CP in the United States is 2-3 children per 1,000, a rate that has been relatively unchanged for decades. Although recent innovations in diagnosis using motor scores and MRI scans have aided in diagnosis, these techniques have historically been reserved only for infants who were cared for in neonatal intensive care units, were born prematurely, or who had other neurologic risk factors, such as birth defects.

The tool identified 2.4 times more children with CP than would have been detected using current diagnostic methods, according to the researchers.

“We developed the prediction tool to try to make these findings accessible to any health care provider, which will hopefully help break down the long-held perception that CP is usually related to prematurity or a difficult delivery,” said Mary Dunbar, MD, an author of the study. “We know that about half of children with CP aren’t premature and didn’t have a particularly difficult birth.”

The bedside tool weighs factors such as the use by mothers of illicit drugs and tobacco; the presence of diabetes and preeclampsia during pregnancy; whether the infant is male; birth weight; and the number of miscarriages the mother had prior to the birth. The tool also factors in results from a test that measures how well the infant is adjusting to life outside the womb.

Dr. Dunbar and colleagues compared 1,265 infants with CP from the Canadian Cerebral Palsy Registry from 2003 to 2019 with a control group of 1,985 children without CP from the Alberta Pregnancy Outcomes and Nutrition longitudinal study.

The study authors hope that the prognostic tool can be integrated into existing newborn screenings and completed by nurses or physicians as part of routine care.

“Its cost is low especially in comparison to MRI and specialized neurological assessments,” said Sarah Taylor, MD, section chief of neonatal-perinatal medicine at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital in New Haven, Conn. Health systems and doctors may be more apt to adopt the tool, since it does not require specialized equipment or training.

Surprising findings

Several clinical variables independently increased the risk of CP, including independent 5-minute Apgar test scores of <6, chorioamnionitis, and illicit drug use during the pregnancy. Dr. Dunbar and colleagues recommend that primary care clinicians provide enhanced surveillance for these infants.

“I think there are also really important public health implications to address maternal and reproductive health to support pregnant people, since this study shows that common pregnancy conditions that are potentially treatable may additively contribute to cerebral palsy risk,” said Dr. Dunbar, a pediatric neurologist and assistant professor at the University of Calgary (Alta.)

For infants identified as being at risk, the study authors also suggest that doctors conduct focused examinations for CP at 3-, 6- and 12-month well-baby visits. If results of an examination are abnormal, doctors can advise the caregiver to conduct an early expert evaluation for a general movements assessment. Interventions for children with CP usually start in the first few years of life and can include occupational therapy, use of orthotic devices, and medication.

Dr. Dunbar and colleagues acknowledge that the test is not perfect and that additional work is needed.

“As helpful as the prediction tool may be to identify cases of CP early, we know there are still a minority of CP cases that it won’t catch because they don’t have any of the known risk factors,” Dr. Dunbar said. “We’re currently working on further research about this unique group.”

The researchers cited several limitations to the dataset used in the study, including a control group that was skewed toward older patients and persons of higher socioeconomic status. In addition, the data included a greater proportion of White women than the average Canadian population.

The Canadian Cerebral Palsy Registry was supported by the NeuroDevNet, KidsBrainHealth, the Harvey Guyda Chair of McGill University, Montreal Children’s Hospital, and the Public Health Agency of Canada. The authors disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

A version of this article first appeared on

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