Stanford University Medical Center researchers have identified a protein responsible for ensuring correct skull growth in newborn mice. The protein, called Noggin, inhibits fusion of bony plates in the skull until developmentally appropriate. The scientists hope that Noggin may one day replace surgery as a way to treat premature skull fusion in infants.
"About 1 in 2,000 children has growth plates in their skull that fuse prematurely," said Michael Longaker, MD. "The brain is rapidly expanding in size during the first two years of life. If the brains container - the skull - cant expand in a similar fashion, you have a big problem." Left untreated, the condition can lead to mental retardation, blindness and seizures, as well as a severely misshapen head.
Longaker, a pediatric craniofacial surgeon at Lucile Packard Childrens Hospital and a professor of surgery at the School of Medicine, can correct the defect by removing sections of fused bone from an infants skull. But the operation is complex. And because its difficult to accurately predict how much room is needed for expansion, the procedure may need to be repeated as the brain grows.
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