Human Stem Cells Fix Broken Neurons In Mice Brain

Su-Chun Zhang, a professor of neuroscience and neurology, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison published a study in April 2013 demonstrating that human stem cells can successfully implant themselves in the brains of mice and heal neurological deficits. Zhang cultivated the human stem cells in his lab. He then caused damage to a part of the mice brains involved with learning and memory which disabled them from recalling how to find a hidden platform in a water maze.

Subsequently Zhang transplanted the stem cells to the damaged areas of the mice brains, allowed time for integration of the stem cells, and retested the mice. He found the mice could now learn to find the hidden platform. After sacrificing the healed mice he observed that the stem cells had grown into healthy, functional, adult mouse neurons that interfaced with mouse neurons responsible for memory and learning. This pioneering work is not immediately applicable to fixing brain damage in human beings, but can serve as a model for potential future therapies.

Spontaneous Brain Repair After TBI

A significant block to spontaneous brain repair following closed head trauma is intra-cerebral bleeding. Free blood in the brain is toxic to new brain cells that could be developed from stem cells. Research published in the online journal Nature on April 24, 2013 shows that glial cells called oligodendrocytes migrate to the damaged area, stop the bleeding, and create scars in the brain. Stem cells can then produce new neurons in a non-toxic environment.

The only problem is that scar tissue creates a restrictive barrier in some parts of the brain. researchers develop treatments that foster brain repair. The lead author of this fascinating study is Chay T. Kuo, M.D., PhD, George W. Brumley Assistant Professor of Cell Biology, Pediatrics and Neurobiology at Duke University. Anyone interested in using stem cell therapy to promote brain repair after TBI will need to take this finding into account.

TBI Benefits From The $100 Million Obama Allocates For New Brain Mapping Project

On April 2, 2013 President Obama announced his initiative to spend $100 million to develop new, more sophisticated brain mapping technologies that would help neuroscientists pinpoint how brain wiring is disturbed in conditions including TBI, Alzheimer’s, autism, and schizophrenia. Current imaging technology is able to show in detail what happens in isolated parts of the brain, but cannot show how brain wiring is affected across the brain.

This higher level of information is necessary to truly understand and treat TBI and the other conditions. Institutions that will play a role in using the money to develop the new optical and electronic imaging technology include Cornell’s Kavli Institute and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Acupuncture Reduces Some TBI Symptoms

Consequent to a TBI many soldiers have to deal with headaches, insomnia, and decreased ability to tolerate stress. At the George E. Whalen Veterans Health Administration (VHA) in Salt Lake City, Utah, acupuncture is being used to provide some relief soldiers with these symptoms. With the use of even a few basic points, patients are reporting a decrease in the intensity of their headaches, better sleep, and increased ability to cope on a daily basis.

Civilians who sustain a TBI from a motor vehicle accident, a fall or a blow to the head, who are living with similar symptoms, may want to give acupuncture a try. It’s cheaper than and has less side effects than prescription medicines over the long run.

New Device Stimulates Recovery From TBI Through The Tongue

The tongue is connected to the brain by thousands of cranial nerve fibers. There are motor fibers running from the brain to the tonue that activate the muscles of the tongue and there are sensory fibers (in the facial and glossopharyngeal nerves) that bring sensations from the tongue to the brain. Very recently researchers at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command have collaborated with researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and NeuroHabilitation Corporation to use the sensory nerves of the tongue as a pathway to stimulate the brain and regenerate damaged brain tissue following TBI, stroke or MS.

They have created an experimental device they call the PoNS (a battery operated appliance covered with electrodes) that gets placed upon the tongue and sends specially-patterned nerve impulses to a patient’s brain. The electro-stimulation of the tongue is done in tandem with a custom set of physical, occupational, and cognitive exercises, based on the patient’s deficits.

The idea is to improve the brain’s organizational ability and allow the patient to regain neural control. The PoNS prototype and associated therapy were developed by University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists Yuri Danilov, Ph.D., Mitchell Tyler, M.S., P.E., and Kurt Kaczmarek, Ph.D. Their research is driven by the principle that brain function is not hardwired or fixed, but can be reorganized in response to new experiences, sensory input and functional demands. If the ongoing research shows the PoNS device to be safe and effective, the collaborators will apply for FDA approval.

Modern Definition of Traumatic Brain Injury

According to the National Institutes of Healh a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is “an injury from a blow, jolt, or penetrating object that disrupts normal functioning of the brain. Causes of TBI include falls, car accidents, sports-related impacts, and penetrating injuries. A TBI can be mild, some​times called a concussion; serious, causing long-term problems; or any level in between.”

How the Brain Adapts to TBI

For the first time, scientists at Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging have used a combination of neural imaging methods to discover exactly how the human brain adapts to injury. The research, published in January 2013 issue of Cerebral Cortex, shows that when one brain area loses functionality, a “back-up” team of secondary brain areas immediately activates, replacing not only the unavailable area but also its confederates. The researchers used 16 healthy adult volunteers. They had each one engage in comprehending a sentence inside a machine using fMRI to scan their brain activity. The scanning continued before, during, and after the researchers used a TMS machine to send a pulse of magnetic energy into the precise area of the volunteers’ brains (the Wernicke’s area in the left temporal lobe) which is directly involved in language comprehension. What they found was that although Wernicke’s area was temporarily immobilized, three other back-up areas of the brain immediately activated and coordinated to assist the volunteer in comprehending the sentence. These areas were the frontal lobes (the area of executive function), the contra-lateral area on the right side of the brain that mirrors the Wernicke’s area but has different functions, and the brain areas next to Wernicke’s area.

This experiment served as a very rapid snapshot of what may take place over a much longer time in the brain of a person who suffered a TBI or stroke. In the case of a TBI or stroke victim there is usually a period of global brain impairment with gradual resumption of normal functioning except those functions related to the specific area(s) where the greatest damage occurred. The study shows that brain activities occur not in single areas but in groups and that back-up groups of unharmed cells can be recruited to take over for damaged cells.