A recent news release from the UTHealth research team documents impressive results from a clinical trial demonstrating the use of stem cell therapy to treat patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI).

An estimated 275,000 people in the US each year are hospitalized from severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). Of these, approximately 52,000 do not survive. Those who do survi  ve often suffer temporary or permanent disabilities, including seizures, neurocognitive defects, physical impairments, and behavioral/emotional disorders. TBI is a contributing factor to one third of all injury-related deaths in the United States.

Image result for tbi and stem cells

TBI is caused by sudden trauma to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal functioning of the brain. Severity may range from mild (i.e. brief change in mental status or consciousness) to severe (i.e. extended period of unconsciousness or amnesia). The extent of the disability or damage caused by TBI results in part because swelling and inflammation in the brain within the first few days following the injury can cut off blood flow to the brain.  Irreversible brain injury can occur if blood flow to the brain is disrupted and the brain is depleted of oxygen entirely (anoxia) or severely reduced (hypoxia), killing neurons.
Hope for TBI in Houston…

Results of phase 1 clinical trial Image result for brain stem cellsconducted by researchers from University of Texas Health Memorial Hermann Hospital showed that it’s possible to reduce brain inflammation by using stem cells from patient’s own bone marrow to reduce the neuroinflammatory response to trauma.
Researchers discovered that by harvesting the mononuclear stem cells derived from the patient’s bone marrow and re-infusing them into the bloodstream within 48 hours of injury, they could preserve the structural parts of the blood-brain barrier normally damaged with TBI.
The therapy works by suppressing or “downregulating” the body’s natural inflammatory response in reaction to sudden injury or trauma to the brain. Despite the treatment group having greater TBI severity, results indicated that the therapy was correlated with improvements in neurocognitive and functional outcomes.
The study, published online in the November 1 issue of Stem Cells, also confirmed the safety and feasibility of earlier studies which demonstrated the effectiveness of the treatment in a clinical trial with children.
It’s not a panacea… but it’s a promising treatment.
Principal investigator Charles Cox, Jr., MD, professor of pediatric surgery at UTHealth and Co-director of the Red Duke Trauma Institute at Memorial Hermann Hospital has been working on treatment for severe traumatic brain injuries for more than two decades. He says the results of this study are promising, but would not consider his cell therapy to be a “miracle cure”.
There are currently few therapies to treat TBI. Results of these studies could potentially open new avenues of treatment and revolutionize the ability of people to recover after suffering severe head injuries. According to Cox, for those suffering from the impacts of TBI, it could mean the difference between the possibility of recovery and regaining functionality, compared to someone who is totally dependent on others for their basic tasks of daily living.
More clinical trials underway…clinical, military and public health benefits.
Image result for tbiThe Phase II studies are being funded by approximately $10 million in grants from the NIH and the Department of Defense (DOD). Interest from the DOD, who provided $6.8 million to continue the Phase II clinical trials, is fueled by the possibility of a revolutionary therapy that can facilitate the recovery of soldiers surviving bomb blasts and other head injuries after returning from war.
From a public health perspective, the research conducted by Cox and his team has the potential to dramatically improve the outlook for the millions of people who suffer traumatic brain injuries each year from car accidents, accidental falls, sports related collisions or other intentional or unintentional head trauma. Such therapy could effectively limit the impact of these injuries, save lives and increase the quality of life for patients and their families.



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