Traumatic brain injury (TBI) happens when there’s a bump or blow to the head, or when something (like a bullet) goes into the head. Every year, about 1.7 million people, including soldiers, auto accident victims and athletes sustain these injuries, which interfere with the brain’s normal functioning.
A concussion is a mild TBI. Most people with concussions just have symptoms, such as having a hard time thinking clearly and dizziness, for a few days or weeks. But severe TBI can be life-threatening or permanently life-altering. People with severe TBI can have attention and memory, movement, hearing and vision problems. Their moods and emotions also can suffer.
Currently, no treatment exists for TBI, but in a recent paper in ACS Nano, researchers report progress on a possible therapy involving nanoparticles — particles so small that a thousand of them would fit across the width of a human hair.
Thomas Kent, James Tour and colleagues explain that TBI disrupts the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the brain. With the brain so oxygen-needy — accounting for only 2 percent of a person’s weight, but claiming 20 percent of the body’s oxygen supply — even a mild TBI can have serious consequences.
A reduced blood flow plus resuscitation efforts result in a build-up of free-radicals, which can kill brain cells. Despite years of far-ranging efforts, no effective treatment has emerged for TBI — that is, until now.
In the paper, the researchers describe the development and successful laboratory testing of nanoparticles, called PEG-HCCs. In laboratory rats, the nanoparticles acted like antioxidants, rapidly restoring blood flow to the brain following resuscitation after TBI. The particles are nontoxic and do not require refrigeration, so they could be used in the field.
“This finding is of major importance for improving patient health under clinically relevant conditions during resuscitative care, and it has direct implications for the current [TBI] war-fighter victims in the Afghanistan and Middle East theaters,” they say.