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Scientists Reprogram Brain Cells to Help Brain Injury Patients

Accident victims with brain injury in their cerebral cortex can suffer problems with memory, attention, perception, language, and consciousness. For a long time, doctors have believed that damage to be permanent. But now, researchers have found a way to reprogram brain cells to help brain injury patients.

The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that handles complex thought. It is affected by dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and some kinds of traumatic brain injury. It also lacks the ability to grow new neurons (nerve cells) when they are damaged or die.

But researcher Benedikt Berninger, of Johanned Gutenberg University Mainz, may have found a way around that. By using gene therapy, he and his team have been able to convert “support cells” in the brain known as glia into neurons. Berninger says,

“Our study is the first to demonstrate[] unambiguously the conversion of a specific subtype of glia, the so-called NG2 glia, into induced neurons in living animals. The findings pave the way for future studies aimed at harnessing the potential of these cells for brain repair.”

A companion study done by Berninger and Magdalena Götz of Helmholtz Zentrum München and LMU is now working to narrow down just the right triggers to covert glia brain cells into usable neurons for brain repair.

These glial brain cells have been largely ignored by scientists in the past, but they could be a great resource for future treatment of brain injury because there are a lot of them in the brain and they continue to reproduce throughout a human life cycle. Other types of brain cells only reproduce at particular times, like childhood.

If, in the future, researchers are able to reprogram glia brain cells into useful neurons and patch them in to a patient’s damaged brain, it could greatly improve the prognosis for patients with brain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, and for the victims of traumatic brain injury. Brain repairs, paired with rehabilitative therapies could be used to help accident victims get back to the people they were before the accident.

David Christensen is a brain injury expert attorney at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. He and his team focus on helping the victims of traumatic brain injury get the recovery they need to pay for their medical needs. If you or someone you know has suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of an automobile accident, contact Christensen Law today for a free consultation.