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Nerve Cell Transplants for Traumatic Brain Injuries

The December issue of Behavioral Neuroscience, published by the American Psychological Association, announces that nerve cells transplanted into brain-damaged rats helped them recover their ability to learn. Scientists say that the transplanted neurons probably promoted growth factors.

The researchers for this study confirmed that nerve cell transplants can help the brain heal itself. This research could lead to new therapies to help people affected by traumatic brain injury as well as dementia. In a process known as neural plasticity, the brain can restore cognitive function by regenerating or reorganizing. The nerve cell transplants seem to stimulate neural plasticity.

The study examined the hippocampus, the site of learning and memory in the brain. Alzheimer’s disease is associated with shrinkage of the hippocampus. Damage to the hippocampus can lead to learning problems for rats. The researchers set out to see if they could repair the hippocampus and restore memory function and learning ability in the rats. They first injected a neuron-destroying chemical into the hippocampus of 48 rats. Then they transplanted hippocampus cells that had been taken from newborn transgenic mice into about half the rats. The transplanted cells contained a fluorescent protein that allowed scientists to track them.

Two months later, the researchers found that the rats that had received the transplanted cells had recovered completely. They were tested using a maze. The rats that received transplanted cells performed as if they had never received a brain injury. However, the rats that did not receive the transplanted cells did not recover and showed many learning problems in the maze tests.

The scientists then tracked the transplanted cells. They found that the transplanted cells had settle into the dentate gyrus region of the hippocampus, where they promoted the secretion of growth factors that boosted the growth and survival of cells that grow into neurons. In rats that received the transplanted cells, the expression of brain-derived growth factor increased threefold. Neural growth factors, also known as neurotrophic factors, hold great promise in the treatment of brain injuries and other neurological problems. They provide a nourishing environment for the production of new neurons and protect existing brain cells.

More research on neurotrophic factors is necessary and in progress. Co-author of the study Bindu Cutty of India’s National Institute for Mental Health and Neuro Sciences said, “More studies along these lines using appropriate animal models are required to find definitive answers about the safety and efficacy of such approaches. We are still some way from achieving a new therapy based on these findings.”

While we may be years away from a new therapy, it is exciting to know that it is possible to stimulate the growth of brain cells and restore cognitive functions like memory and the ability to learn. Traumatic brain injuries can have a devastating impact on one’s life by even slightly altering such cognitive functions.

If you or a loved one has suffered a traumatic brain injury and someone else is at fault, contact an experienced Georgia brain injury lawyer to represent you in court. Call MLN Law at 404-531-9700 to schedule your free consultation.