THE findings of a new Oxford study could lead to safer and more effective medical treatment for premature babies.

Many premature babies are born with too few blood platelets, the cells that help blood to clot, and are given blood platelet transfusions to prevent major bleeding.

However until now doctors had been unclear how low a baby’s platelet count needs to be before a blood platelet transfusion should be given.

The research, which included babies at the John Radcliffe Hospital, found that giving infants a transfusion when their platelet count was lower meant the child was likely to die or suffer major bleeding.

The results have been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Co-chief investigator and researcher at the Radcliffe Department of Medicine at Oxford University, professor Simon Stanworth, said: “The findings have major implications for how neonatologists use platelet transfusions for sick premature babies with low platelets.

"We need to remember that platelet transfusions are biological products, and they do have risks.

"This study also raises questions about using platelet transfusions routinely in other patient groups with very low platelets."

One group of babies included in the study were either given the platelet transfusion when their platelet count fell below 50 while another group was given the transfusion when their platelet count fell lower, to 25.

The researcher found that giving the transfusion when babies’ platelet counts fell below 25 rather than 50 would result in in seven fewer babies (out of every 100) suffering from major bleeding, or dying.