According to a study published in this month’s edition of ACS Nano – the official journal of the American Chemical Society – a joint effort by researchers at Rice University and the Baylor College of Medicine has provided some hope for progress in the way traumatic brain injuries are treated immediately after they occur. A team at Rice developed a nanoparticle known as PEG-HCC, which has already shown improvements in animal testing.
After a head injury, the brain cells release the reactive oxygen species called superoxides as a means of combating disease and other foreign bodies, but as a result of a TBI, an influx of superoxides are released, causing a dangerous imbalance that harms the brain further. Typically, the superoxides are neutralized by superoxide dismutase; however, not enough SOD is produced in the wake of a TBI to protect the brain capably.
According to the website Health Canal, the study’s co-author and Rice chemist James Tour believes that PEG-HCC can help maintain an artificial balance despite the absence of the essential SOD enzymes.
“This might be a first line of defense against reactive oxygen species (ROS) that are always overstimulated during a medical trauma, whether that be to an accident victim or an injured soldier,” said Tour, Rice’s T.T. and W.F. Chao Chair in Chemistry as well as a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and of computer science. “They’re certainly exacerbated when there’s trauma with massive blood loss.”
“Superoxide is the most deleterious of the reactive oxygen species, as it’s the progenitor of many of the others,” Tour said. “If you don’t deal with SO, it forms peroxynitrite and hydrogen peroxide. SO is the upstream precursor to many of the downstream problems.”
As with most recent studies and advancements in treatment, this specific case relies heavily on the fact that secondary brain damage can be considerably worse than the initial injury, and more importantly it can be irreversible. The development of PEG-HCC, according to co-author Thomas Kent, is another step toward finding a cure for the secondary damage.
“There are many facets of brain injury that ultimately determine how much damage there will be,” said Thomas Kent, the paper’s co-author, a BCM professor of neurology and chief of neurology at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston. “One is the initial injury, and that’s pretty much done in minutes. But a number of things that happen later often make things worse, and that’s when we can intervene.”
“That’s what we can treat: the further injury that happens because of the necessity of restoring somebody’s blood pressure, which provides oxygen that leads to more damaging free radicals.”
The results of initial testing have proven to be “remarkably effective”, according to Kent, as PEG-HCC showed immediate progress in restoring the SO levels to normal. The next step in developing this nanoparticle is to have another lab test it and, hopefully, replicate the results.