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Hope for Brain Injury Victims, May 16, 2010-05-20

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a major health problem caused by a sudden trauma to one or more areas of the brain. Today the conventional method of treating patients with TBI is based on administration of supplements to rebalance the brain's chemistry. In the early phases of TBI reduction of the ongoing inflammation using various antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds has demonstrated some promise. Unfortunately, after the injury has occurred there is little that can be done with the exception of physiotherapy programs to allow the patient to cope with loss of function.

Although the traditional belief has been that once the brain is damaged, regeneration is non-existent, recent findings suggest that this may not be entirely true. Specific parts of the brain (subventricular zone) have been demonstrated to contain stem cells that begin to multiply and make new brain cells (neurons) after injury. Although this healing process is often not potent enough to cause a robust effect that can be seen clinically, the fact that it exists pushes scientists to find ways of amplifying it.

It was discovered more than twenty years ago that pregnant pigs have areas of the brain in which cells multiply. The more recent finding of brain stem cells has prompted researchers to ask whether administration of pregnancy-related hormones can actually accelerate healing of injury brains. Scientists at the Canadian company Stem Cell Therapeutics have shown that administration of the hormone human chorionic gonadotrophin (the same hormone detected by the pregnancy test) to animals with TBI can accelerate recovery. We have previously discussed here that this company is now in clinical trials with this approach for stroke, another type of brain injury

Another approach to treating TBI involves administration of stem cells from outside of the body. This approach has previously been used for conditions like heart failure , liver failure , or multiple sclerosis

Recent studies have demonstrated that animals in which TBI was induced, the administration of bone marrow stem cells results in regeneration of damaged areas. It is currently unclear whether the stem cells themselves are becoming new neurons, or whether the stem cells are producing an environment in which the existing brain stem cells may exert their activity. The University of Texas has recently completed a 10 patient clinical trial of children with TBI treated with their own stem cells, however the results have not been published yet.

One example of the potential of adult stem cells in treatment of brain damage is illustrated in a scientific report from Russia in which comatose patients where treated with stem cells and consciousness was regained (Seledstove et al. Cell therapy of comatose states. Bull Exp Biol Med. 2006 Jul;142(1):129-32).

The potential of stem cell therapy for TBI is anticipated to be promising. Dr. Paul Breen, a specialist in TBI stated ""This new research in stem cell research is a huge breakthrough and highly anticipated. We hope that this could help pave the way for future research in stem cell usage for brain trauma treatment in the coming years. If it works, it could give thousands of people who have suffered brain injury hope of, if not a complete recovery, then certainly a much better quality of life and a restoration of many of their physical and mental functions. It's a strong case in favour of continued stem cell research."

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