A high school student developed a brain injury treatment that could potentially apply to carbon monoxide poisoning. One of the effects of CO poisoning is the brain damage caused by the lack of oxygen (anoxia) and the toxins released because of the CO (the neurotransmitter, glutamate). When a brain is injured, certain cells called astrocytes reduce their uptake of glutamate, which causes brain cell death.

This means there is too much glutamate hanging out in the brain. This is toxic to the brain cells or the neurons. If untreated, the neurotransmitter glutamate will kill neurons. This amounts to potentially permanent brain damage.

The 17-year-old student Indrani Das decided that she would try to mimic healthy neuron to astrocyte signaling. For her discovery, she won the top prize from the Regeneron Science Talent Search. Specifically, her treatment uses one microRNA inside an exosome. There has been growing interest in using exosomes for treatments.

Brain Injury Treatment

Indrani Das won the highest prize at the Regeneron Science Talent Search. She won for her potential brain injury treatment. (https://student.societyforscience.org/regeneron-sts)

This treatment has been tested on mouse neurons in a petri dish, but has not been tested on humans yet. In the mouse neurons, the treatment did work, which was a very exciting day for Indrani. This discovery has the potential to transform the way the brain injury community looks at brain injury. This treatment could shed a positive light on people who may have brain injuries in the future. This could add another line of defense in terms of brain injury treatment. In the mouse neuron test, the astrocytes, or the star-shaped glial cells of the central nervous system, did uptake more glutamate, the toxic neurotransmitter to neurons. This was great news, but her treatment still has to be tested on an actual brain injury. For more on her research, see the video below.

One of the potential avenues that this brain injury treatment could help with is the avenue of brain damage after carbon monoxide poisoning. Approximately 50,000 people are treated in hospitals annually for carbon monoxide poisoning. When you breathe in CO gas, it binds to hemoglobin, the protein found in red blood cells. Hemoglobin normally carries oxygen to the brain, but carbon monoxide binds to hemoglobin with about 200 times the affinity of oxygen. The lack of oxygen in the brain is called anoxia. The higher levels of glutamate in the brain are toxic to neurons.

Indrani’s treatment could help reduce the toxic effects of glutamate in the brain. Her research can not only apply to traumatic brain injury as a result of a car accident or sports injury, but it could also potentially help the people that deal with CO poisoning. CO poisoning is not an isolated incident. Neurological and behavioral symptoms can crop up in the two to 40 days after the poisoning. If this treatment is tested and found to be an effective treatment for brain injury, it’s possible these after effects could be reduced.

It’s amazing how a high school student could make a discovery that could transform the way that brain injury is treated. She definitely deserves the commendations she received. Although still just tested in mouse neurons, the treatment has the potential to also be successful in humans. In this case, I would think that carbon monoxide poisoning would be a great area of interest for research in this area. The brain damage that is caused by CO poisoning sounds like it might benefit from Indrani’s treatment, which mimics healthy astrocyte to neuron signaling. In her treatment, it helps the astrocytes uptake the glutamate, so the toxins aren’t hanging out in and damaging the brain. Nonetheless, hopefully her research reaches the people who make decisions about how to treat brain injuries in the future.

It is unlikely that this particular treatment will be a breakthough. But what is the most exciting is that a new generation of minds is chasing this elusive goal of curing what has always been thought to be irreversible brain damage. We hope that Ms. Das stays in the field of medicine as she progresses through her education. We need her and thousands of other bright minds to be the future brain injury experts.

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