Scientists say they’re one step closer to showing that their experimental hydrogel technology—more plainly known as “brain glue”—can help people with traumatic brain injuries. In a recent study, they found that their brain glue helped prevent long-term damage and tissue loss in the injured brains of rats, while also speeding up the healing process.
Severe traumatic brain injuries, the sort caused by life-threatening accidents or assault that can send people into comas, are very difficult to treat. Even in the best cases, people often have to undergo a long recovery process, and they may experience lifelong complications. But researchers at the University of Georgia, led by Lohitash Karumbaiah, have been working on developing new ways to repair these sorts of acutely damaged brains.
One promising approach developed by Karumbaiah and his team is their brain glue. The glue is actually made of complex sugars, arranged in a particular way to look like sugars naturally found in the brain. Normally, these compounds bind to other proteins that together help protect and repair brain cells. By implanting the glue into people’s brains soon after injury, the hope is that it will boost our natural healing ability, staving off otherwise untreatable brain damage and ensuring better outcomes for patients.
The team’s earlier research suggested that the glue did seem to work as intended over the short term in rats with severe brain injuries, with benefits documented up to four weeks later. But this new study, published last month in Science Advances, found that benefits of the treatment could also be seen 20 weeks following injury, when compared to a control group of rats.
“Animal subjects that were implanted with the brain glue actually showed repair of severely damaged tissue of the brain,” said Karumbaiah in a statement released by the university. “The animals also elicited a quicker recovery time compared to subjects without these materials.”
The treated rats seemed to improve cognitively. As part of the experiment, they were given a simple task to reach and grasp an object, and those treated performed better than the control group. The researchers also found evidence of improved healing in the regions of the brain known to be involved in this task, further indicating that the glue was responsible for the better performance.
Rats and humans do share a lot of similar brain circuitry, so it’s very much possible that this glue will be able to help people with these kinds of injuries. But further studies and clinical trials in people would need to be done before we could start to see this sort of technology widely used in hospitals. To that end, Karumbaiah has filed for a patent on his brain glue and his team has secured funding to continue pursuing this research. It it does pay off, it’s the sort of work that could not only help people with severe traumatic brain injuries but other neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease.