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Wednesday 26th October 2016

Brain injury repair gel hope

4th September 2009

Research into a new injectable gel, funded by the US Department of Defence, has produced something that scientists say can heal brain injuries and may even stimulate stem cell growth.


The gel works by stimulating tissue growth and is made from both synthetic and natural ingredients.

Developed by Ning Zhang at Clemson University in South Carolina, the gel has only been tested on rats so far.

Zhang said that it may be about three years before the gel is ready for human use.

Standard treatments for brain injuries attempt to minimise secondary damage, lowering the temperature around the injury or relieving built-up pressure.

Swelling also tends to cause more problems for sufferers after a head injury occurs.

Many scientists think that transplanting brain cells from a donor is a good approach to dealing with brain injuries, though it has led to limited practical results because the cells do not tend to thrive when transplanted.

The reason seems to be the development of scar tissue at the site of the injury, as well as inflammation and reduced blood flow.

The scientists have designed the new gel in such a way that it can be potentiated with different chemicals that would stimulate different kinds of biological activity.

The first thing Zhang used it for was to re-establish blood flow in brain injured rats.

Following that, she combined the gel with human tem cells and the kinds of chemicals that allow stem cells to become adult brain cells.

Rats with severe brain injuries made significant recoveries after eight weeks of treatment with Zhang's gel.

Zhang said that her team had seen an increase in brain injuries due to combat, but that their strategy could potentially be applied to head injuries caused by car accidents, falls and gunshot wounds.

Professor James Fawcett, of the Cambridge University Centre for Brain Repair, said a gel with the capacity to inhibit scar formation and the release of toxic molecules would represent a significant advance for medicine worldwide.

Headway, a brain injury association, said the research could be a significant step foward.

However, the charity also said that no human trials had taken place at this stage, and that a great deal more research was required before this method of regenerating brain tissue following traumatic injury could be heralded.

They said scientists were some years away from a possible therapeutic use of this gel, and that it was important to avoid promises of miracle cures.


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