There continues to be hope in the field of stem cell therapy for those with TBI (traumatic brain injury) and stroke. Brain injuries often result from car accidents, concussive blows from explosives, and slip and falls. The large number of American military injuries involving the brain has resulted in a great deal of money and research being focussed on understanding how the brain works, and how the damage effects it, and new therapies such as stem cell research.
Stem cells are blank cells that form the building blocks for all cells. Currently most stem cells are harvested from adult bone marrow or umbilical cord blood. However these stem cells are more suited to growing into organ systems from which they come. They aren’t well suited to growing brain cells.
Brain stem cells are currently being used to repair damage in lower order animals, however, in humans researchers have yet to ‘unlock’ human brain stem cells. Human brain stem cells remain dormant after injuries to the brain and research is currently being focussed on how to activate a person’s own brain stem cells in order to allow brain regeneration, and damage repair. Current research shows that injecting new embryonic brain cells into brains causes the cells to reproduce too quickly creating ‘mutant’ cells, or they may not proliferate enough resulting in no meaningful recovery.
Researchers are focussing on the correct stem cell match best suited to each kind of injury. Ideally for a brain injury, the stem cells should match cells that already exist in the brain. This experimentation includes introducing drugs to the brain which allow activation of the stem cells already there, allowing them to reproduce and repair damage done. The US Food and Drug Administration is currently allowing limited clinical trial of adult stem cell therapy in patients with TBI and we’ll be keeping an eye on the results. If successful they could improve millions of lives around the world.