Stuck for Good

Brain Glue could help heal damage from traumatic brain injuries

With a gel-like consistency similar to Jell-O, Brain Glue, a scaffold that can protect brain tissue and enhance brain healing, could serve as a treatment for traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).

Developed by researchers at the University of Georgia’s Regenerative Bioscience Center (RBC), Brain Glue supports neural stem cell function and protects transplanted stem cells, which are capable of repair. It can be formed to any shape, so Brain Glue can be applied to fill any voids in the brain after severe trauma.

The RBC team that designed and created this new hydrogel was led by Lohitash Karumbaiah, assistant professor in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Unlike other synthetic hydrogels, Brain Glue provides a variety of possibilities to trap neural stem cells and protective factors to provide a more natural, regenerative healing environment, all within a supporting framework made of components native to the brain.

“TBI is a complex sequence of events caused by physical injury that damages the brain tissue and is then followed by a cascade of secondary events that often lead to long-term brain damage,” said Karumbaiah. “The Brain Glue works to support the function of the surviving cells, to facilitate repair and stabilize the damaged brain during these secondary events.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 1.7 million TBIs occur in the U.S. each year, and for moderate to severe TBIs, there is no effective treatment.

“There is nothing people can do clinically to help heal or regenerate the brain after a severe TBI. That was our starting point to address the problem,” Karumbaiah said.

The brain has a plasticity, capacity for self-renewal and a stimulation process to spawn new neural cells.

“What we did next was look at the brain’s neurogenesis process and the ability to self-renew, then built a complementary scaffold consisting of protective agents to create a very porous, yet pliable, multifaceted, regenerative solution,” he said.

The National Institutes of Health awarded Karumbaiah $1.5 million for his TBI work, which was initially funded through a seed grant program by the Regenerative Engineering and Medicine Center, a collaboration between UGA, Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he partnered with Ravi Bellamkonda.

The RBC team will continue to work on scalable treatments for TBI with tools to not only protect neural stem cells, but also to evaluate how they work. This combined approach could encourage the activity of the brain to remodel itself and potentially restore function, providing new hope for TBI victims.

By Charlene Betourney

Brain Glue artwork

The top photo shows damage to the brain structure, which was largely repaired due to neurogenesis, facilitated by the application of Brain Glue.

There is nothing people can do clinically to help heal or regenerate the brain after a severe TBI. That was our starting point to address the problem.

Lohitash Karumbaiah