Top Researchers Striving To Develop Treatment Programs For Concussions
Research and Innovations Concussions have had an overwhelming effect on ordinary people, our military personnel, and athletes of all ages. Research has begun to reveal the cellular and molecular problems that underlie the result of concussion. Researchers at Western University are applying these findings to develop novel strategies to treat concussion.
For many, a concussion might seem quite black and white; a direct and damaging blow to the head. However, according to Dr. Arthur Brown of Western University’s Robarts Research Institute, what people need to understand is that even mild, unremarkable hits to the body or the head may result in a concussion.
One thing that seems to be unanimous amongst the top researchers in this field, is that the most effective form of prevention against these types of injuries is awareness.
Repeated mild hits are what can lead to long-term problems, like Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which can often have a crushing effects on its victims. “With CTE comes all sorts of problems in terms of mood disorder,” says Dr. Brown. “People tend to have problems controlling their temper, and a very high rate of suicide, which is so devastating. These people spend their lives entertaining us, we love and idolize them. They then go into retirement only to have these unfortunate problems arise.”
One thing that seems to be unanimous amongst the top researchers in this field, is that the most effective form of prevention against these types of injuries is awareness. This is why Dr. Michael J. Strong, Dean of the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at Western University and doctors Gregory Dekaban and Arthur Brown, are also involved in concussion awareness programs like See The Line, with Canadian hockey legend Eric Lindros. According to Dr. Strong, luminaries like Lindros are actually integral to the cause.
“Everybody uses the word transformational a little bit too much, but I think it’s actually applicable here,” says Dr. Strong. “To have somebody like Eric who, at the peak of his career, says ‘I’m done’ because of the long-term risks, is really inspirational.”
After the blow
Though awareness is paramount, once a concussion occurs medical science currently offers little in the way of therapies beyond mandatory complete rest.
“After the nervous system is done developing, it needs signals telling it to stop growing. Every green light, needs a red light in the body because you don’t want to be constantly rewiring your nervous system. The problem is, once the nervous system is damaged, those red lights are still there."
Doctors Dekaban, Brown and Strong are taking a three-pronged approach in an effort to develop new therapies for concussion. The first is led by Dr. Dekaban. The goal is to reduce inflammation in the damaged brain by blocking white blood cells from entering the site of injury where they cause more harm than good.
The second prong is to maximize brain function after injury. Dr. Brown’s laboratory has focused on developing a strategy to augment what he calls neuroplasticity, the brain’s natural ability to rewire itself.
“After the nervous system is done developing, it needs signals telling it to stop growing,” said Dr. Brown. “Every green light, needs a red light in the body because you don’t want to be constantly rewiring your nervous system. The problem is, once the nervous system is damaged, those red lights are still there. So what we’ve done is found a master switch protein that turns off the red light. By blocking it we decrease the inhibitors in the brain and the spinal cord and we therefore open up greater opportunities for plasticity.”
The third prong is to prevent a form of dementia called CTE, perhaps the most debilitating consequence of concussion. Dr. Strong’s laboratory is investigating why abnormal proteins aggregate in brains of individuals with multiple concussions with an eye on strategies to block this buildup.
These research programs are showing promise at various stages of preclinical development and ignited the interest of Eric Lindros.
”Developing therapeutics is a long and hard road to climb,” said Dr. Brown. “We have been incredibly fortunate to have Eric Lindros helping by pulling and pushing us up this hill. The sheer force of his conviction that this work needs to get done is a huge boost to our programs. Though not a scientist, Eric is definitely part of the team.”