Nanoparticle Offers Early-Stage Treatment to Brain Injuries

Researchers at Rice University are reporting success in using a nanoparticle as an emergency treatment for traumatic brain injuries. The research could also improve brain injury treatment for stroke victims and organ transplant patients.

The nanoparticle, which was developed at Rice University, is polyethylene glycol-hydrophilic carbon clusters (PEG-HCC). It's already being tested in cancer treatment, where it has shown itself to be a powerful antioxidant. 

In the current research, the Rice team took PEG-HCC’s effectiveness as an antioxidant one step further, by using it to counter something called reactive oxygen species (ROS)—after a traumatic brain injury, cells release an excessive amount of an ROS called superoxide (SO) into the blood.

The research, which was published in the journal ACS Nano (“Antioxidant Carbon Particles Improve Cerebrovascular Dysfunction Following Traumatic Brain Injury”), found that PEG-HCC provides a balance to the blood counteracting the effects of the SO when the body’s natural enzymes become overwhelmed by the ROS.

“Superoxide is the most deleterious of the reactive oxygen species, as it’s the progenitor of many of the others,” says James Tour, Rice chemist and a co-author of the paper, in the university press release covering the research. “If you don’t deal with SO, it forms peroxynitrite and hydrogen peroxide. SO is the upstream precursor to many of the downstream problems.”

The PEG-HCC treatment is applied after the second burst of free radicals is released in the blood when the patient is resuscitated. “That’s what we can treat: the further injury that happens because of the necessity of restoring somebody’s blood pressure, which provides oxygen that leads to more damaging free radicals,” explains Thomas Kent, the paper’s co-author, a BCM professor of neurology and chief of neurology at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston, in the press release.

In the animal studies that have been performed thus far in the research, the treatment has been characterized as “remarkably effective.”

Kent further notes in the press release: “Literally within minutes of injecting it, the cerebral blood flow is back to normal, and we can keep it there with just a simple second injection. In the end, we’ve normalized the free radicals while preserving nitric oxide (which is essential to autoregulation). These particles showed the antioxidant mechanism we had previously identified as predictive of effectiveness.”

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IEEE Spectrum’s nanotechnology blog, featuring news and analysis about the development, applications, and future of science and technology at the nanoscale.

 
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