The quest to find therapies for helping victims of traumatic brain injury recover took an exciting turn last year, when University of South Florida researchers began to experiment with transplanting stem cells into the damaged region of TBI patients’ brains.
Stem cells, as many people know, are essentially “blank slate” cells. They are the earliest form of cells, which haven’t developed a specific function or form yet. Each part of the body — tissue, organ, bone — gives rise to stem cells, which then develop into that particular part of the body.
But as scientists have discovered, stem cells have an immense amount of potential to become truly anything, and take on any function. But can stem cells be used to rebuild damaged portions of the brain?
Rebuilding the Brain
In this therapy being tested on mice at USF, stem cells are transplanted from another part of the body into an area of the brain affected by traumatic brain injury. The stem cells then build a bridge — researchers have begun calling it a “bio-bridge” — that links the damaged part of the brain with an uninjured brain site. In the uninjured part of the brain, new stem cells are born, then travel across this “bio-bridge” to repopulate and repair the damaged part of the brain.
Cesar Borlongan, who directs the university’s Center for Aging and Brain Repair, said in a university press release:
“The transplanted stem cells serve as migratory cues for the brain’s own neurogenic cells, guiding the exodus of these newly formed host cells from their neurogenic niche towards the injured brain tissue.”
In early laboratory trials, rats that received stem cell transplants like these showed significantly better motor and neurological function, along with reduced brain tissue damage, compared to the control group. Even though the survival of transplanted cells did not last long, the improvement to the rats’ overall function remained strong.
These findings convinced the FDA to approve a limited clinical trial with human patients. More recently, researchers in the UK are following suit, with similar trials of the therapy with stroke victims. It’s an exciting prospect that could bring great relief and support to victims of traumatic brain injury.
The Brain Injury Law Center has vast experience in helping victims of traumatic brain injury get the resources they need for recovery. Call us at (757) 244-7000 to discuss your case and see if we can help.