High-Dose Erythropoietin for Asphyxia and Encephalopathy (HEAL): A Randomized Controlled Trial - Background, Aims, and Study Protocol

Neonatology. 2018;113(4):331-338. doi: 10.1159/000486820. Epub 2018 Mar 7.


Background: Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) remains an important cause of neonatal death and frequently leads to significant long-term disability in survivors. Therapeutic hypothermia, while beneficial, still leaves many treated infants with lifelong disabilities. Adjunctive therapies are needed, and erythropoietin (Epo) has the potential to provide additional neuroprotection.

Objectives: The aim of this study was to review the current incidence, mechanism of injury, and sequelae of HIE, and to describe a new phase III randomized, placebo-controlled trial of Epo neuroprotection in term and near-term infants with moderate to severe HIE treated with therapeutic hypothermia.

Methods: This article presents an overview of HIE, neuroprotective functions of Epo, and the design of a double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter trial of high-dose Epo administration, enrolling 500 neonates ≥36 weeks of gestation with moderate or severe HIE diagnosed by clinical criteria.

Results and conclusions: Epo has robust neuroprotective effects in preclinical studies, and phase I/II trials suggest that multiple high doses of Epo may provide neuroprotection against brain injury in term infants. The High Dose Erythropoietin for Asphyxia and Encephalopathy (HEAL) Trial will evaluate whether high-dose Epo reduces the combined outcome of death or neurodevelopmental disability when given in conjunction with hypothermia to newborns with moderate/severe HIE.

Keywords: Hypoxia-ischemia; Neonatal encephalopathy; Neuroprotection; Therapeutic hypothermia.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial Protocol
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Asphyxia / therapy*
  • Clinical Trials, Phase III as Topic
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Erythropoietin / administration & dosage*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypothermia, Induced / methods*
  • Hypoxia-Ischemia, Brain / therapy*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Multicenter Studies as Topic
  • Neuroprotection
  • Neuroprotective Agents / administration & dosage
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Erythropoietin