It seems that every day bring new information about birth injuries-preventing them, treating them, and everything in between. For example, just this week the Yale Daily News discussed a new effort at the university which uncovered more information about how and when neural circuits between the brain and the eyes are created in a developing child.
Specifically, as reported in last month’s Nature Neuroscience, a research team has found that activity inside the womb actually affects the development of the neural wiring between the eyes of brain of the fetus. Essentially, using newborn mice, scientists discovered that even the closed eyes of an unborn can produce message which are then sent to the brain to help ensure that the wiring system between the eyes and brain develop properly.
This is big news, because while this sort of early development was previously speculated, it is the first time that researchers had been able to actually manipulate the temporal patterns of eyes in vivo and analyzed the brain wiring effect. Previously medical professionals assumed that the child was born, exposed to the environment, and then that exposure influenced the neural activity in the brain. But now we know that it occurs earlier. Scientists believe this may ultimately prove to have implications for preventing problems like autism, which may be caused by “miswiring” in the brain.
In addition, the development process is thought to be similar for other parts of neural circuit, including the spinal cord. What this means is that activity within the womb actually affects more parts of the child’ brain development than previously thought.
1) The more we know about how injuries develop and what can be done to prevent them, the standard of what constitutes “reasonable” behavior by medical professionals changes. Most birth injury lawsuits are essentially medical malpractice lawsuits where negligence is alleged. The victims are seeking redress because a medical professional who owed them a reasonable duty of care breached that duty and caused harm. When trying to prove what constitutes a “reasonable” care, lawyers are forced to show what other doctors would have done in the same situation based on commonly understood medical knowledge and practices. Those practice and that knowledge changes as new advance in medicine are made. Consequently the arguments about whether a breach did or did not occur are also altered.
2) In addition, besides allowing medical professionals to prevent injuries in more situations, advances in medicine also lead to better treatment options for victims. In this way the research may play a role in what damages are asked for and awarded following one of these cases. How much a victim receives in a case is influenced, in part, by the costs associated with their long term care and the permanent harm that the injury has caused them. Both of those things can be affected by improved treatments options for victims. Injuries that were previously permanent may no longer be permanent. Also, families may also want resources so that they can pursue treatment option that were previously unavailable.
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