Every single organ in the human body is important but the brain is the control center for all and when it is damaged, bodily and mental functions diminish depending on the extent of damage. After my father suffered traumatic brain injury from a car accident, I wondered what can be done for people with brain injuries and those with neurodegenerative diseases and decided to do some research.
Do Brain Cells Regenerate?
The first thing I discovered is that any of the connections in the brain can be reformed if there is damage to it and even some areas of the brain can take over for others when damage is present. The actual cells of the brain do not regenerate, though. Brain injuries and diseases that break down parts of the brain result in permanent damage.
In the case of my father, the injury to his brain affected his ability to move. He was not paralyzed, but his movement was significantly decreased since the areas of his brain that were affected included motor neurons.
The Quest for a Cure
Researchers began trying to find a way to regenerate brain function with novel treatment approaches to Parkinson’s disease in the late 1980’s. The disease is caused by the massive die-off of dopamine-producing neurons in the brain. It was postulated that, if fetal stem cells were implanted into the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease, it would help repair the degenerated areas.
I discovered that Swedish scientists managed to successfully treat patients in this manner. Fetal stem cells were used and a number of patients achieved significant decrease of symptoms to the point of being able to live independently again. Studies confirming this were published in 1992. I still wondered how this would relate to brain injury.
How Brain Injury Relates
When there is traumatic brain injury, the effects result from dead brain cells. Though more Swedish scientists discovered in 1998 that neuronal regeneration is possible, it would still take direct approaches to truly help individuals with such injuries.
The studies done with Parkinson’s disease and implanted stem cells showed that it is possible to repair brain damage. This means that the same applies to other types of traumatic brain injuries. Since over 2.8 million people are affected by these injuries, real treatment would be saving that many lives and making them better.
The hope for my Father was actually dimmed by political problems. In Sweden, there was no controversy over using embryonic stem cells, which were typically harvested from failed fertility clinic approaches. However, in the United States there is and this caused such research to halt by 2002. How would my Dad or people like him get better?
Now there are active studies being done to replace the cells damaged in traumatic brain injury. This is really the quest to repair damaged brains and spinal cords. I am happy to know that there is at least a possibility for many others in the future and so is my father.