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Stem Cells May Play Future Role in Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment

The Star News reported this week on some exciting new related to traumatic brain injury (TBI) treatments. In previous posts we have counseled against the work of some scam artists who are using the promise of stem cell research to con unsuspecting families into paying top dollar for unproven and potentially dangerous experimental treatments. This is a very real problem that all local families must guard against. However, there is now some research coming from credible sources which offers more evidence that down the road stem cells may hold the key to brain injury research.

Our Chicago brain injury attorneys were excited to read about the latest study which was published online in the Journal of Neurotrauma regarding the role that implantation of human stem cells may have in spurring rejuvenation in the damaged brain of TBI victims. We touched upon this research in a post earlier this year. According to those involved, the study involved the implantation of human neuron stem cells into rats who had suffered a traumatic brain injury. What was the result? Amazingly much of the damage to the rats’ brains was reversed, which meant that there was a reconnection of filaments in the brain’s nerve cells.

The study’s lead author explained that filaments are necessary to make connections between nerve cells in the brain. It is upon these connections that learning and memory are possible. While traumatic brain injuries often cause actual cells to be lost, the filaments are often retracted. Per the findings of this study, use of stem cells may work to reconnect those filaments (though not regenerate the brain cells).

In the study researched used both the rats as well as a new apparatus that apparently mimics human neuron brain damage. By doing so they were able to identify a specific mechanism which allows the implanted stem cells to aid in the recovery of brain damage to certain brain pathways. The specific pathways are known as the axons and dendrites. When those pathways are disturbed the trauma is known as a traumatic axonal injury. The lead research explained that, “In this study we found that our stem cell transplantation both prevents further axonal injury and promotes axonal re-growth.”

So exactly how do stem cells help repair the damage and prevent more damage? According to the researcher the human stem cells release a neurotrophic factor known as “GDNF.” Apparently it is GDNF which specifically causes the positive improvements discussed.

Not only were the pathways repaired in the damaged rats, but another benefit of the stem cells is that they reduce the levels of “alpha-smooth muscle actin.” This is a protein which essentially builds and clogs up the brain after trauma. Rats that had trauma but no stem cells treatment had higher levels of this protein than those who received the treatment. This protein build-up is another problem faced by brain injury victims, and so if the stem cells limit the growth it should undoubtedly be viewed as a positive development. As the lead researcher summarized, “We are quite excited about these discoveries. This kind of detailed study is essential to developing safe and effective therapies for traumatic brain injury.”

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