By GREGORY ZELLER //
With concussions and other traumatic brain injuries continuing to make headlines on and off the playing field, Long Island researchers may be closing in on a unique treatment method.
Scientists at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research and the Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine have published the results of a nerve-stimulation study with broad-ranging implications for many neurological conditions, including severe TBIs.
Published online by the international science journal Nature, the paper, “Neuroprotective Effects of Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation in Severe Traumatic Brain Injury,” chronicles work done by investigators from the Feinstein Institute, the Northwell Health system’s R&D division, and Hofstra Northwell’s Department of Neurosurgery, along with doctors at the Houston Methodist Research Institute in Texas.
According to “Neuroprotective Effects,” in a laboratory animal study, electronic stimulation of the trigeminal nerve – a cranial nerve primarily responsible for transmitting sensations from the face to the brain – showed promise for management of concussions and other brain injuries.
Electronic nerve stimulation and other bioelectronic-medicine pursuits are cornerstones of Feinstein Institute research. Kevin Tracey, the institute’s president and CEO, is recognized globally as a bioelectronics pioneer, while multiple commercial ventures focused on nerve-stimulation technologies have already spun off.
Specifically, the Feinstein/Hofstra/Houston Methodist researchers found that in animal models with TBIs, trigeminal nerve stimulation resulted in increased cerebral blood flow, delivering more oxygen to the brain – an important step toward preventing “secondary injury” after a concussion or other traumatic event, noted Chunyan Li, an assistant professor in the Feinstein Institute’s Center for Bioelectronic Medicine.
“Following TBI, ischemia and hypoxia play a major role in further worsening of the damage,” Li said. “Preventing secondary injury is vitally important in the overall management of TBI.”
Li, along with Center for Bioelectronic Medicine Director Chad Bouton, joined a team of five Hofstra Northwell MDs and PhDs and Houston neurosurgeon Eugene Golanov to investigate the electrical stimulation of the trigeminal nerve specifically as a means of improving cerebral blood flow.
“We found that TBI rat models with [trigeminal nerve stimulation] treatment demonstrated significantly increased systemic blood pressure, (cerebral blood flow and) oxygen,” Li noted, as well as other positive effects, including reduced brain edema – abnormal fluid accumulations – and fewer lesions.
Northwell Health Senior Vice President Raj Narayan, who heads the health system’s neurosurgery services and also participated in the study, suggested a potential treatment breakthrough – especially significant, the doctor noted, since “no pharmacological agents have currently been shown to improve clinical outcomes for TBI.”
“There is an urgent need for developing novel therapeutic strategies to maximize recovery,” Narayan said. “The data from this research study provides strong evidence that [trigeminal nerve stimulation] offers neuroprotection following brain damage.”
The Feinstein-Hofstra study is not the first time Long Island-based (or backed) researchers have dug into the national head-injury epidemic, which plays out regularly among professional athletes, weekend warriors and others.
One year ago, the National Science Foundation awarded a $225,000 Small Business Technology Transfer grant to Farmingdale-based ALA Scientific Instruments and Dr. Lilianne Mujica-Perodi of Stony Brook University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, to fund research into the use of magnetic-resonance imaging to create a cutting-edge diagnostic tool for better treatment of brain diseases, autism and traumatic brain injuries.
And Scythian Bioscience Corp., a Toronto/New York City-based biotech headed by Great Neck investment banker Jonathan Gilbert, is funding a five-year, $16 million University of Miami study exploring cannabinoid-based methods for reducing post-concussion brain cell inflammation – potentially resulting in the world’s first pharmaceutical treatment for TBIs.
Concussions and other traumatic brain injuries, meanwhile, might not be the only conditions that can benefit from electronic stimulation of cerebral nerves, according to “Neuroprotective Effects” co-author Narayan.
“[Trigeminal nerve stimulation] could also offer some benefit in other pathological states, such as stroke or [other conditions] where the brain is at risk for ischemic and/or inflammatory damage,” the Northwell Health senior VP said.