Hope for Brain Injury Victims

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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