Worldwide, an estimated 10 million people suffer some form of traumatic brain injury (TBI) severe enough to result in either death or hospitalization each year. Nearly 20% of these TBIs occur in the United States and over 50,000 of those affected die as a result of their injury.
Characterized by a wide range of physical, psychological, and emotional impairments that range from mild memory and mood disorders to severe loss of body control and coma, TBIs are most often caused by a serious blow to the head or neck area.
Research has confirmed that the initial trauma resulting from the TBI is not the only factor causing damage to the brain. After sustaining an initial injury, the brain initiates a series of complex biochemical responses that significantly influence the overall severity of the damage caused as a result of the injury.
TBIs come with a tremendous cost, with direct and indirect costs estimated at over $60 billion per year in the United States alone. Additionally, there has been limited success in identifying therapeutic or pharmacological treatments that improve the long-term prognosis of moderate to severe TBI.
Considering the recent success of regenerative therapies in the treatment of a number of serious health conditions, researchers are optimistically exploring the potential benefits of using stem cells, specifically mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), as a possible way to restore functionality to damaged neurons in and around the brain.
In this publication, Hasan et al. review numerous studies investigating the effects of the infusion of MSCs into animal models of TBIs and summarize the advances in the application of MSCs in the treatment of TBI. MSCs are multipotent stromal cells and are available for extraction from all tissue in the body.
Adding to the potential benefits offered by MSCs, they have been found to differentiate into a wide range of cell lines (not just mesenchymal cells) making them an easily accessible and potentially highly effective option for use in the regenerative treatment of TBIs.
In addition, MSCs have been observed selectively migrating and settling within injured tissue, which adds additional benefit for treatment within previously undeliverable or difficult-to-deliver sites such as the brain and the heart.
The growing evidence supporting the efficiency of using MSCs to alleviate the long-term and debilitating effects of TBI has been further bolstered by recent research highlighting the potential for the genetic modification of MSCs as a way to enhance the survival of stem and neuronal cells. Coupled with additional findings in human trials demonstrating that oxidative stress production can be manipulated by MSCs and therefore contribute to the brain’s recovery after injury, researchers are increasingly optimistic that MSC-based approaches offer significant benefits for the treatment of TBIs.
Hasan et al. also point out several concerns and potential challenges of using MSCs in the treatment of TBIs that need to be further explored and better understood before regular use in clinical settings can be approved. Among these concerns, the authors point out, is that a better understanding of the mechanisms of MSC homing in TBI-affected regions of the brain is important in order to employ them efficiently in clinical settings. Another area requiring further research is a better understanding of the respective roles of paracrine effects, transdifferentiated cells, and other factors related to tissue repair. The authors also identify a recent concern over the potential role of MSCs in the development of cancer and autoimmune diseases as a cause for further study of this potential treatment.
Despite the areas identified as in need of further research, the authors conclude that MSCs continues to demonstrate great potential in the field of regenerative medicine and specifically with respect to their use in the treatment of TBI.
Source: Mesenchymal Stem Cells in the Treatment of Traumatic Brain Injury.” 20 Feb. 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5316525/.
 “Traumatic brain injury – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic.” 4 Feb. 2021, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/traumatic-brain-injury/symptoms-causes/syc-20378557.