A study out of Brown University finds that there may be a window for therapeutic intervention for brain injury, according to the principal investigator. The PI was Dr. Christian Franck, Ph.D., who is an assistant professor of engineering, and designed and oversaw the study.
The device they used was simple. It had a motor-driven piston that used vibrations to drive the piston back and forth. The purpose was to imitate the impact of a head collision. They put a gel down under the laser microscope, which gets squeezed and then released. They tested at faster and slower speeds.
One of the unique parts of the study was that they studied the cells in a three-dimensional gel format, rather than a two-dimensional slide format.
One of the goals of Franck’s is to predict based on an impact whether or not a person has damage to his or her brain, Franck said in our interview with him. The second goal is “to understand the evolution of the injury.” If the brain injury is severe enough, cells will die, and they want to know how long this will take. “It’s aimed at developing therapeutic strategies,” he said.
Hypothermia, or cooling the injured brain, is one of the therapeutic options, which has minimal side effects and is fairly easy to do. “In very basic animal studies it seems very promising, but there is more work to be done to apply to humans,” he said. “If it is possible, it is very attractive.”
One of the key findings of the study done with rat neurons is that they have a window of about five to six hours before the cells start to die. “Our model is very simple, so it’s not like the human brain,” he cautioned.
Currently, health professionals lack the guidelines that say when a therapeutic intervention should be administered. Franck’s data points to the few hours following the injury. We’re trying to provide data for guidelines for clinics, Franck said.
Franck’s hope for the future is twofold. The first is being able to quantitatively diagnose brain injury across all levels. The second is that there would be a treatment available to people with brain injury that would reduce the detrimental effects on the body. “Right now, we’re relying on the body to heal itself,” he said. “We’ll have much better policies, guidelines and standards.”
The researchers also found rounded circles, called blebs, when they stained the tissue and looked at it under the microscope. These are well established injury markers that occur during traumatic brain injury. But this was only true in the faster impact cases. The slower impact cases did not show the blebs, but the cells would equally die. Since their model was so simple, they were able to see it easily. In humans, it would be like a needle in a haystack. The faster models showed what they had seen previously, but the slower models showed a new morphology.