A research team out of Trinity College in Dublin has pinpointed a new method for treating traumatic brain injury that focuses on targeting immune cells and “resetting” them so that they are no longer as active as they once were. This might seem to be counterproductive at first. Don’t we want immune cells to be as active as possible so that they can help to promote recovery?
It turns out that this isn’t necessarily the best way to help a brain that is recovering from an injury to recover. In fact, this research states that overactive immune cells can help to create a neurotoxic effect within the brain that can do more harm than good.
When a brain injury occurs, the microglia within the brain–the immune cells–change from their normal state into an inflamed one. Over the short term, this is good for the brain as it provides immediate protection and can even start the healing process. But if this inflamed status persists for too long, it is possible for neurological deterioration and cognitive decline to occur. In other words, if the brain’s immune cells are inflamed for too long, they start causing dementia, in essence exacerbating the symptoms of a traumatic brain injury. This is the exact opposite of what we would want to see when someone is suffering from a brain injury.
To get to this conclusion, researchers worked with lab mice and recreated traumatic brain injury within them. Researchers then inhibited immune cells within the brain, killing off about 95 percent of these cells within a mouse. After a week, inhibition ceased and researchers allowed mice to rest for about a month. The mice that received this inhibition showed much greater signs of recovery than the mice that did not receive the inhibition. The mice went on to show less overall brain damage, less cognitive decline, and better motor skill performance.
Researchers believe that things like this may be a potential cause of bigger issues, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Of course, this is likely not the only contributing factor to Alzheimer’s, but if it is a contributor, then there is a lot to go on for future researchers.
The implications of this research for senior citizens is pretty big, even if that elderly individual has never suffered a brain injury in their life. It shows that we might be able to help those who have suffered from dementia take steps to help regain cognitive functioning, even if it is on a temporary basis. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done if this is going to be replicated in humans successfully, but mice models are the first step in making this happen. If it does happen it could be years down the road, but at least researchers know that this is an avenue worth pursuing to help those that suffer from dementia.
It’s a small victory in the fight against Alzheimer’s, but it’s one that could lead to much bigger wins. If you have questions about how to help an older loved one with dementia find good care now, please get in touch with us or another care service to get started in the right direction.