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Medical Moment: Protecting the brain from TBI and concussions

Published: Jan. 19, 2022 at 10:29 PM EST
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A sports injury, a car accident, even a simple bump or blow to the head can cause a concussion. Or worse, a traumatic brain injury.

These injuries can have negative short and long-term effects. Some report issues with concentration, memory problems, and even mood swings.

But there may be a simple way to protect the brain from these effects.

Every year, 2.5 million people get a traumatic brain injury. 80,000 suffer permanent disability, while 50,000 die.

“Traumatic brain injury in general at the moment does not have an FDA-approved treatment,” says Harry Cramer III, PhD candidate at Brown University.

That’s why researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are studying how cooling the brain may be able to shield against the negative effects of a concussion or TBI. But instead of putting an ice pack on the head, these researchers are cooling the brain at a cellular level. Using brain cells in a dish, they looked for the sweet temperature for cooling.

“What we found in our study was that cooling just a few degrees to about 33 degrees Celsius, and then within the first four hours was most beneficial,” says Dr. Christian Franck from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

33 degrees preserved the most brain cells, while cooling too much at 31 degrees causes injury to the cells.

“The targeted application of cooler temperatures in a very controlled way can actually slow down cellular processes that are occurring within these cells after injury,” Cramer says.

Now, the scientists are researching the best delivery treatment directly to the brain.

“We were kind of envisioning it is almost like a little inhaler that has a coolant in it,” says Franck.

Delivering a cool treatment to save the brain and lives.

Researchers found the best outcome was when the cooling lasted for six hours, but Franck says cooling for even as little as 30 minutes showed some benefits.

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