University of Toledo research on a promising treatment for traumatic brain injuries coincides with the public’s growing interest in football-related injuries.
Dr. Kenneth Hensley, associate professor of pathology, is using a compound that he developed and patented known as LKE, or XN-001, to explore the possible medical benefits. LKE treatment reduces neural damage and accelerates recovery in a mouse model of diffuse axonal injury, which is a common type of brain injury in motor vehicle accidents, combat injuries and football players. The study results were published recently in the Journal of Neurotrauma.“This topic is of great interest to the public, especially as we continue to hear more and more about the long-term effects of brain injuries, in particular as it relates to football,” Hensley said. “The movie ‘Concussion’ with Will Smith is coming out on Dec. 25, which will spark additional dialogue on brain injuries caused by sports and if we should be encouraging our children to get involved in such potentially dangerous activities.”
Hensley said LKE works by binding to a protein called CRMP2 that helps stabilize connections that neurons use to communicate with one another. In a traumatic brain injury, these connections are damaged; however, LKE helps nerve cells repair the CRMP2.
Further, Hensley and his UT colleagues, Dr. Kris Brickman, an emergency medicine physician, and Dr. Daniel Gaudin, a neurosurgeon, are conducting studies to identify salivary biomarkers of concussive brain injury in local high school football players and in car crash patients. This is imperative because a biomarker would allow a more objective way to determine the seriousness of a head injury, Hensley said.
“This work has the potential to rapidly and accurately identify serious brain injury and provide effective treatment to minimize the brain damage resulting from such injuries,” he said.
Hensley also is working with Dr. Marni Harris-White, associate professor and research health scientist at UCLA/Veterans Administration, to understand how traumatic brain injuries translate to Alzheimer’s disease, which affects more than 5 million Americans and has no treatment to slow it down.
Harris-White has found that people with mild brain trauma don’t have swelling or bleeding that can be detected with a brain scan. The brain’s neurons go through subtle changes, which she and Hensley are trying to understand so they can develop drugs to treat the injury, whether big or small.
“We grossly underestimate the number of traumatic brain injuries a person might experience in a lifetime,” Hensley said. “Kids fall all the time when they are learning to walk and are those falls causing changes to the brain over time? That’s why this research is so important. The cost to a young person is difficult to estimate, but we are talking about a reduction in decision-making capabilities and brain function.”