Brain cooling may be a viable treatment for concussions in the future, new research shows.
The study, conducted by University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers, supports treatment at the cellular level and may pave the way for new concussion treatment in the future.
A traumatic impact on the brain can activate biochemical pathways that lead to neurodegeneration, the progressive deterioration and loss of function of brain cells. Neurodegeneration causes lasting and potentially devastating health problems for patients, highlighting the need for treatments.
Christian Franck, associate professor of mechanical engineering at UW-Madison who led the study, said: “There is currently no effective medical treatment for concussions and other types of traumatic brain injury. We are very excited about our findings as they could potentially pave the way for treatments that we can offer to patients. “
The researchers published their findings in the journal PLOS ONE.
Therapeutic cooling for concussions
The process is much more complicated than just applying an ice pack to your head.
In their experiments, the researchers examined two biochemical pathways that can lead to neurodegeneration following traumatic injury. By performing experiments on brain cells in a box, Franck and his team discovered several key parameters that determined the effectiveness of therapeutic cooling in mitigating damage to injured cells.
The researchers cooled the injured cells separately to four different temperatures, determining that the cells could be overcooled or undercooled. They also found that timing is crucial – treatment should start within four hours of an injury to be effective and continue for at least six hours.
Biochemical pathways in the brain
The researchers found that they could turn off damaging biochemical pathways in cells through cooling. In other words, the cells remained healthy and functioning normally, even though they had just undergone a traumatic brain injury.
After six hours of cooling, the researchers returned the concussed brain cells to normal body temperature, curious whether the warming would activate the damaging biochemical pathways.
“The biggest surprise was that the molecular switches were permanently off for the duration of the laboratory experiment,” explains Franck. “It was huge.”
Franck says there is more to learn before brain cooling can be a practical treatment for clinic patients, and that isolating cooling from the brain is vital.
He said: “For a long time, the scientific literature was inconclusive as to whether this would be an effective treatment. What we showed in our study is that yes, as far as cell biology goes, it is effective. And now it’s really worth thinking about how we might implement this in practice. “