Traumatic Brain Injury Blog

Can The Brain Heal Itself?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Have you ever wondered about the body's ability to heal itself naturally or through the help of medication?  What about regeneration?  The liver is the only internal organ capable of natural regeneration of lost tissue.  The liver can regenerate into a whole liver from as little as 25% of its original tissue.  If the liver can regenerate then what about the brain? The movie, "Rise of the Planet of the Ages", due to be released this summer by Twentieth Century Fox, depicts James Franco as a man who develops a drug called "The Cure" while working on a cure for Alzheimer's.  In the movie he hypes the product as a drug that allows the brain to "heal itself" and while performing tests on apes, discovers the new drugs abilities and all havoc breaks loose. While the movie and the drug are very much science fiction, "The Cure" may not be too far off in the least in the form of a drug that will help recovery efforts for traumatic brain injury victims.

When someone suffers a severe brain injury, the initial impact can be deadly.  However, if they survive,  progressive degeneration of the brain can continue during the hours, days, weeks and months that follow.  As these neural cells continue to die, not only can the survivors physical well being decline but long term mood, depression, lack of concentration and memory can be impacted.

  "If modern medicine can help promote the growth of new neurons as well as stop or at least slow the degenerative process, the brain could be on its way to healing itself."

This is where a group of Australian scientists, as part of a global effort, are working with a drug called erythropoietin (EPO) and its promise to promote the brain's ability to heal itself.   You may be familiar with EPO as a drug that has previously been linked to top athletes and accusations of "doping" to improve performance.  It is well known that EPO increases the number of red blood cells and therefore oxygen in the body.  However, the three year study that is currently underway will focus on EPO along with another drug known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and their combined ability to increase neural cell growth in mice while decreasing cell degeneration.  This work is being led by the National Trauma Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia and could one day also lead to treatments for spinal-cord injuries, multiple sclerosis and even stroke.  To Dr. Nicole Bye and her team at NTRI - we at wish you luck!

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