News Video | Policy | GPs | Hospitals | Medical | Mental Health | Welfare | Search


New Light Shed On Serious Abnormalities In Babies

New Light Shed On Serious Abnormalities In Babies

Every year in NZ, at least 15 babies are born with a serious and life threatening congenital abnormality called oesophageal atresia. Babies with this condition have part of their gullet (oesophagus) missing, and the lower end of the gullet has an abnormal connection or hole between it and the trachea (windpipe). Without surgery these babies die, as milk cannot be swallowed and ends up in the lungs, causing pneumonia.

What normally happens with oesophageal atresia is that the child undergoes surgery one or two days after birth, with the vast majority surviving, although some have ongoing problems with swallowing that persist well into childhood.

The cause of this serious abnormality has so far been a mystery. Now a paediatric surgery researcher at the Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Dr Dejan Arsic has shed new light on how this, and other related abnormalities, might come about.

As part of his PhD research Dr Arsic has honed in on a specific protein called Sonic hedgehog (Shh). This acts as a signalling molecule, and is vital for the development of parts of the body like the oesophagus and trachea.

“We haven’t discovered this molecule as such, but what we have found out which has not been understood before is that the actual levels of this protein in the tissues have a major impact on the development of this type of abnormality, and maybe others too,” he says.

Dr Arsic’s original findings have shown for the first time that the Shh protein is a vital message carrier for the formation of the foregut, including the trachea and the oesophagus. When this is being developed, the fetus has high levels of this protein in the region where these organs are developing. If the levels of Shh are low there is a risk of the oesophagus not developing normally, one part of it joining the windpipe and developing a hole between the two vital tubes which carry air and food to the body.

Dr Arsic has also shown that as the fetus approaches birth, the level of Shh declines naturally, but in those children born with these and other malformations, the protein levels stay low throughout gestation period.

The next step in unravelling this condition is to identify genes involved in the development of the gastrointestinal tract. Then it may be possible to prevent these abnormalities from occurring, or at least diagnose the condition before birth.

Dr Arsic’s research has recently been published in the prestigious specialist journal Pediatric Surgery International. He has also won two prizes from the Australasian Association of Paediatric Surgeons for his research.

This research has been supported by the University of Otago’s PhD Scholarship and the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation.

© Scoop Media

Culture Headlines | Health Headlines | Education Headlines


Howard Davis Review: Reclaiming The N-Word - Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman

Black resistance to institutional racism in the US has a long, tangled, and traumatic intellectual history. Although we may have assumed much too easily that white supremacists like David Duke had become marginalised as a political force, in reality they never really disappeared ... More>>

Howard Davis Review: The Minstrel in The Gallery - Sam Hunt's Selected Poems

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Sam Hunt's poetry is its quality of urgent authenticity. Encountering this latest compilation, the reader is immediately struck by its easy accessibility, tonal sincerity, and lack of linguistic pretension ... More>>

A Matter Of Fact: Truth In A Post-Truth World

How do we convincingly explain the difference between good information and misinformation? And conversely, how do we challenge our own pre-conceived notions of what we believe to be true? More>>


Scoop Review Of Books: The Road To Unfreedom

Valerie Morse: Yale professor of history Tim Snyder publishes a stunning account of the mechanisms of contemporary Russian power in US and European politics. In telling this story he presents both startling alarms for our own society and some mechanisms of resistance. More>>


Doing Our Bit: An Insider's Account Of New Zealand Political Campaigning

In 2013, Murdoch Stephens began a campaign to double New Zealand’s refugee quota. Over the next five years he built the campaign into a mainstream national movement – one that contributed to the first growth in New Zealand’s refugee quota in thirty years. More>>



  • Wellington
  • Christchurch
  • Auckland