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Scientists Test Drug for Traumatic Brain Injury

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Nobody ever thought head trauma was a good thing, but ongoing studies make it clear just how bad it can be. Now, researchers have begun testing an experimental drug that may help prevent some of the injury’s negative effects. Their results were recently published in the journal PLoS One.

The effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) can last a lifetime. At the moment, according to study co-author Linda Van Eldik, treatment options for TBI are limited. "Traumatic brain injury represents a major unmet medical need, as there is currently no effective therapy to prevent the increased risk of dementia and other neurologic complications, such as post-traumatic epilepsy, neuropsychiatric disorders, and post concussive symptoms such as headaches, sleep disturbances, memory problems, dizziness, and irritability," she said in a press release

Van Eldik and her colleagues are working to develop a drug to nip some of those long-term effects in the bud. "Following a head injury, the body mobilizes immune cells [called cytokines] to respond to the trauma and jump-start the healing process," she said. "Although these immune cells help repair the injury, they also cause inflammation that may damage the tissuea sort of double-edged sword."

The researchers hope to hold on to the benefits of immune response while blocking the inflammation that can lead to later problems. They believe the best candidate for this process may be a compound called MW151. Van Eldik has been working with MW151 for years. In a 2007 test, Van Eldik and her colleagues found that MW151 was able to hold off the pro-inflammatory cytokines while preserving the immune system’s cell-repair abilities. These tests were limited to a type of TBI called closed head injury. Van Eldik and her colleagues wanted to see if it would work in other types. 

The researchers ran new tests, this time looking at diffuse TBI (injury spread across a wide area of the brain, as opposed to a small section). They used a technique called midline fluid percussion to induce diffuse brain injuries in lab mice, then dosed the mice with MW151. Some of the mice were euthanized, and their brains, blood, and livers examined to determine if the drug was effective and safe. Other mice were given problem-solving tests to see if the drug had protected their ability to learn. The researchers found that even low doses of MW151 suppressed inflammatory proteins without interfering with cell repair.

"We were delighted to see that MW151 is effective in more than one model of TBI," lead author Adam Bachstetter said in the press release. "MW151 appears to dampen down the detrimental inflammatory responses without suppressing the normal functions that the cells need to maintain health."

MW151 seems like a good candidate so far, but to date, the researchers have only tested the drug on rodents. They hope to progress to clinical trials in the next few years. 

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MARS Bioimaging
The World's First Full-Color 3D X-Rays Have Arrived
MARS Bioimaging
MARS Bioimaging

The days of drab black-and-white, 2D X-rays may finally be over. Now, if you want to see what your broken ankle looks like in all its full-color, 3D glory, you can do so thanks to new body-scanning technology. The machine, spotted by BGR, comes courtesy of New Zealand-based manufacturer MARS Bioimaging.

It’s called the MARS large bore spectral scanner, and it uses spectral molecular imaging (SMI) to produce images that are fully colorized and in 3D. While visually appealing, the technology isn’t just about aesthetics—it could help doctors identify issues more accurately and provide better care.

Its pixel detectors, called “Medipix” chips, allow the machine to identify colors and distinguish between materials that look the same on regular CT scans, like calcium, iodine, and gold, Buzzfeed reports. Bone, fat, and water are also differentiated by color, and it can detect details as small as a strand of hair.

“It gives you a lot more information, and that’s very useful for medical imaging. It enables you to do a lot of diagnosis you can’t do otherwise,” Phil Butler, the founder/CEO of MARS Bioimaging and a physicist at the University of Canterbury, says in a video. “When you [have] a black-and-white camera photographing a tree with its leaves, you can’t tell whether the leaves are healthy or not. But if you’ve got a color camera, you can see whether they’re healthy leaves or diseased.”

The images are even more impressive in motion. This rotating image of an ankle shows "lipid-like" materials (like cartilage and skin) in beige, and soft tissue and muscle in red.

The technology took roughly a decade to develop. However, MARS is still working on scaling up production, so it may be some time before the machine is available commercially.

[h/t BGR]

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More Studies See Links Between Alzheimer's and Herpes
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Although it was discovered in 1906, Alzheimer’s disease didn’t receive significant research attention until the 1970s. In 1984, scientists identified the plaque-like buildup of amyloid beta proteins in brain tissue that causes nerve damage and can lead to symptoms like memory loss, personality changes, and physical debility.

Now, researchers are learning why amyloid beta tends to collect in brain tissue like barnacles on a ship. It might not be rallying expressly to cause damage, but to protect the brain from another invader: the herpes simplex virus.

As The Atlantic recently noted, a number of studies have strengthened the notion that amyloid beta activity is working in response to herpes, the virus that travels along nerve pathways and typically causes cold sores around the mouth (HSV-1) or genitals (HSV-2). In a study involving mice, those engineered to produce more amyloid beta were more resistant to the herpes virus than those who were not.

But when too much amyloid beta is produced to combat the virus, the proteins can affect the brain’s neurons. And while herpes tends to target specific pathways in the body that result in external sores, it’s possible that the virus might act differently in an older population that is susceptible to more widespread infection. Roughly half of adults under age 50 in the U.S. are infected with HSV-1 and 12 percent with HSV-2, which suggests that a large swath of the population could be vulnerable to Alzheimer's disease. Two other strains of the virus, HHV-6A and HHV-7, have also been found to be more common in the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patients than in the general population.

More research will be needed to further understand the possible relationship between the two. If more findings support the theory, then it’s possible that antiviral drugs or vaccines targeting herpes might also reduce the chances of amyloid beta buildup.

[h/t Atlantic]

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