Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) often lead to cognitive disabilities and permanent neural tissue damage, for which effective therapies do not exist. The serious cognitive impairments that patients experience and the burden on caretakers can be enormous, necessitating a constant search for treatments that may help.
Researchers at University of Georgia have now reported in journal Science Advances about a remarkable hydrogel they developed that seems to protect the brain from tissue loss after a TBI and even repair neural networks that were damaged.
The material, which the researchers call “brain glue,” is modeled on a sugar lattice that brain cells use for support. The gel has features that make it bind to basic fibroblast growth factor and brain-derived neurotrophic factor that help brain cells survive and regrow after an injury.
To assess its effectiveness for TBI, the gel was implanted into the brains of rats post injury and allowed to do its work. A tissue clearing method was then used to make the animals effectively transparent, allowing the team to view what the relevant parts of the brain were doing when the animals were utilizing their “reach-to-grasp” circuits.
“Our work provides a holistic view of what’s going on in the recovery of the damaged region while the animal is accomplishing a specific reach-and-grasp task,” said lead project scientist, and the developer of the brain glue, Lohitash Karumbaiah. “Because of the tissue-clearing method, we were able to obtain a deeper view of the complex circuitry and recovery supported by brain glue. Using these methods along with conventional electrophysiological recordings, we were able to validate that brain glue supported the regeneration of functional neurons in the lesion cavity.”
It is hoped that this research will translate into an effective clinical therapy that could help to address some of the consequences of brain injuries.
Here’s an imaging of a rat’s brain treated with brain glue following a TBI: