Much research is being conducted to study cerebral palsy (CP), the devastating brain disorder that affects the brain’s ability to control the body. Some cerebral palsy research is being conducted to find a cure by preventing or reversing the brain damage that causes CP. Many scientists hope that by learning more about how a normal brain functions, they can better understand how a damaged brain functions. Other cerebral palsy research is studying ways to improve the quality of life of individuals with CP. This includes helping children with cerebral palsy communicate better and helping them with mobility.
Past cerebral palsy research has already discovered that there are two main causes of the brain damage that causes cerebral palsy: German measles, also known as rubella, and Rh factor incompatibility. Additional cerebral palsy research is focusing on other conditions that cause hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), damage to the brain caused by prenatal or fetal asphyxia. HIE is known to be the most common cause of disabilities like CP.
Scientists know that some conditions cause the brain to release harmful levels of glutamate. Glutamate is normally a helpful substance that can turn toxic at high levels in response to certain conditions. If the levels of glutamate in the brain can be controlled by researchers, brain damage can be prevented.
Some cerebral palsy research is focusing on prevention of CP by administration of drugs that encourage brain development in premature infants, especially if an infant is in a situation that puts her at risk for CP. Another potential way to help prevent CP lies in the study of neurotrophins, substances that protect neurons. Researchers are trying to learn how to control these proteins to protect the brain.
A small number of cerebral palsy cases are caused by inherited conditions. Geneticists are learning about the genes that may contribute to problems with brain development through genetic screening and collecting DNA samples. It is believed that the results of cerebral palsy research can help decipher the process that occurs when neurons specialize, travel to the correct place in the brain, and form connections with other neurons, a process that does not work properly in some infants with CP.
In addition to research on preventing and managing the brain damage associated with CP, some cerebral palsy researchers are studying ways to make living with CP more manageable. Researchers are exploring techniques to help individuals with CP communicate more effectively with other people. Others are developing techniques to help those with CP move their limbs and even rebuild damaged brain connections using robotic therapy.