University of Arkansas researchers find potential therapy for brain swelling during concussion

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 192 views 

Biomedical engineering researchers at the University of Arkansas have found a cause of fluid swelling in the brain, or cellular edema, happening during a concussion, and a treatment for it, according to a news release.

Researchers discovered pre-treating the cells with a drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for epilepsy and altitude sickness reduces the amount of a specific protein that causes swelling.

Their findings were in the Sept. 14 issue of Scientific Reports, which is published by Nature Publishing Group.

“Our study found that mild traumatic brain injury resulted in increased expression of a protein called aquaporin-4, which caused a massive cellular influx of fluid, leading to increased astrocyte cell volume and injury,” Kartik Balachandran, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, said in the release. “We then worked with a drug called Acetazolamide. Our results showed that Acetazolamide minimized cell swelling and injury, suggesting a therapeutic role for this drug in reducing the detrimental effects of concussions.”

Balachandran said researchers “chanced upon” trying Acetazolamide, which is used to treat altitude sickness, often leading to fluid buildup.

Researchers included Balachandran, who led the study; Nasya Sturdivant, biomedical-engineering doctoral candidate; Jeffrey Wolchok, assistant professor of biomedical engineering; and partners at the FDA’s National Center for Toxicological Research in Jefferson, Ark.

Mild traumatic brain injury, or concussion, often happens in car crashes, full-contact sports and battlefield injuries, according to the release. The high death rate in those who suffer a concussion is attributed to the swelling or edema of astrocytes, the most abundant cell type in the brain.

Researchers developed a benchtop bioreactor to examine astrocyte cells. The device helped them see the brain injuries led to an increased amount of aquaporin-4, the protein causing a larger cellular influx of fluid, which in turn leads to increased astrocyte cell volume.

“This study demonstrates the collaborative neuro-engineering efforts that are contributing to both diagnostic and therapeutic methods for addressing traumatic brain injury,” Raj Rao, professor and chair of the UA Department of Biomedical Engineering, said in the release.

The research, which is still ongoing, was paid for by a $395,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant was awarded in August 2014.