Many Connecticut residents suffer traumatic brain injuries each year. Mild traumatic brain injuries cause only temporary declines in brain function, but severe injuries cause long-term or even permanent impairment. There is little that current medical science can do to arrest or reverse these long-term declines in brain function. Scientists have tried to arouse injured brains with various drugs and drug combinations, but none of these efforts have been successful. However, the results of a recent clinical trial suggest that stimulating a part of the brain called the thalamus with electricity could improve cognitive function. The doctors and scientists behind the study published their findings on Dec. 4 in the scientific journal “Nature Medicine.”
Surgically implanted electrodes
The five patients who took part in the clinical trial had electrodes surgically implanted in a section of the thalamus called the central lateral nucleus. This is a relay center in the brain that helps people to plan tasks and process and manage information. Scientists sent electricity to these electrodes to stimulate the central lateral nucleus for 12 hours each day. After three months of therapy, the speed at which the five patients were able to process information increased by up to 52%. Scientists observed at least a 20% increase in information processing speed in all but one of the patients.
Larger studies are needed
The scientists who took part in the clinical trial do not claim to have made a major breakthrough, and they concede that larger trials with more patients must be conducted before any firm conclusions can be drawn. However, the results of the trial suggest that electrical stimulation could be an effective, straightforward and relatively inexpensive treatment for TBIs. The scientists also point out that none of the patients who took part in the trial experienced any serious side effects.
A ray of hope
People who suffer serious traumatic brain injuries sometimes never recover fully. Scientists have tried using drugs and drug cocktails to stimulate damaged brains, but none of these approaches has been successful. Scientists and doctors who took part in a recent clinical trial found that stimulating damaged brains with electrodes may greatly improve brain function. Further work is needed, but the results could provide a ray of hope to people suffering with these debilitating injuries.