Scientists from Sheffield Hallam University have been awarded £615,000 to investigate how low-level exposure of carbon monoxide (CO) affects the brain from embryo to adulthood. The study, which has been funded by CO Research Trust, will be conducted over four years and is aiming to develop a body of research currently lacking in depth.
Although it is commonly accepted that developing babies, depending on the stage of the pregnancy and level of exposure, can face life-changing consequences, current research has not been able to paint a full picture.
Dr Mari Herigstad, the research lead and senior lecturer in biosciences and healthcare at Sheffield Hallam University, believes this will prove to be a significant development in the understanding of how CO affects the brain.
She said: “How this happens exactly in terms of scientific and medical understanding, is not completely understood and this is why further scientific and medical research in this area is important and being undertaken.”
Carbon monoxide exposure: a ‘massive public health issue’
Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless, and tasteless gas produced as a result of incomplete combustion of products containing carbon. These include items used in a daily routine such as barbecues, car exhausts, kerosene stoves, and cigarette smoke. In turn, according to the UK Teratology Information Service (UKTIS), the consequences of exposure in newborn babies include congenital malformations, neurological problems and even death.
Adrian McConnell, chief executive of the CO Research Trust, said: “Understanding the impact of exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide is a critical area of focus for the CO Research Trust.
“It is a massive public health issue. There is potential to help thousands of people who may be suffering from CO exposure unknowingly.”
An elusive condition to analyse
The problem with current research stems from the fact that data relating to CO exposure is not routinely held, making it an elusive condition to analyse. Currently, the only treatment provided by NHS England is the provision of high flow oxygen, usually either administrated by paramedics at the scene of exposure or at the hospital.
Although Herigstad acknowledges ‘this treatment saves lives’, further research could expand the current treatment and help in the development of new and more effective options.
The Sheffield Hallam University’s biomolecular sciences research centre has also recently developed a pioneering non-invasive method for detecting breast cancer at a 98% accuracy from just fingerprints.
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