Traumatic brain injuries are notoriously difficult to treat directly. Surgical treatments are dangerous and largely limited to reducing pressure on a swelling brain following a TBI since there is no safe way to pinpoint and treat specific parts of the brain without the large potential of causing more damage. However, a new technology may solve this problem.
According to research published this week in the journal Nature Communications, scientists may have developed a way to deliver medicine directly to injured parts of the brain without invasive surgical procedures or the high risk of additional brain damage.
“Current interventions for acute brain injury are aimed at stabilizing the patient by reducing intracranial pressure and maintaining blood flow, but there are no approved drugs to stop the cascade of events that cause second injury,” said Dr. Aman Mann, first author of the study, in a statement.
The largest issue with the medicines in development to stop this cascade of secondary injury has been finding ways to administer drugs that could potentially prevent further injury or even possibly heal damage from the initial TBI. The drugs cannot be directly injected into the without high risk of complications according to lead researcher Dr. Erkki Ruoslahti.
To solve this problem, the team of researchers from the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute set out to find an alternative means of delivering medicines to specific parts of the brain. Eventually, they singled out a peptide that could be used to accomplish this.
“We have found a peptide sequence of four amino acids: cysteine, alanine, glutamine, and lysine … that recognizes injured brain tissue,” said Ruoslahti, a professor at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute. “This peptide could be used to deliver treatments that limit the extent of damage.”
The treatment works by administering peptides loaded with drugs that specifically seek out and bind to proteins called chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans that build up around injured areas of the brain. This way the medication is delivered directly to the injury site.
The team says their initial goal is to find a way to immediately and safely treat brain injuries, but they also see potential for new diagnosis and analysis tools in their new treatment.
“This peptide could also be used to create tools to identify brain injuries, particularly mild ones, by attaching the peptide to materials that can be detected by medical imaging devices,” Ruoslahti said. “And, because the peptide can deliver nanoparticles that can be loaded with large molecules, it could enable enzyme or gene-silencing therapies.”