Scientists have cool idea to reduce brain injurys
Scottish researchers are looking at whether cooling the bodies of patients who have suffered head injuries could boost their recovery and reduce disability.
The £2 million study, led by Edinburgh University, will investigate whether inducing hypothermia in patients could help protect the brains from further damage.
The findings could help more than two million people a year who experience a traumatic brain injury around the world.
Head injuries kill 50,000 people annually in the US, with a further 80,000 suffering long-term disability as a result.
The research led by Edinburgh, funded by the National Institute for Health Research’s Health Technology Assessment Programme, will be the largest intensive-care study to be carried out on brain injuries, involving 50 centres worldwide.
Previous work showed that inducing hypothermia in patients puts the body into a state of artificial hibernation. In these conditions, the brain can survive with a reduced blood supply.
Road accidents or falls often lead to swelling of the brain, caused by bleeding or bruising inside the skull. This can reduce blood flow to the brain.
The Edinburgh team hope that by cooling the body to between 32C and 35C they will lower brain pressure and reduce the likelihood of long-term disability or death.
The Eurotherm3235 trial will see head injury patients given cold intravenous drips within ten days of their accident.
The patients will also be kept cool, using either cold water blankets or cooling pads, for at least 48 hours. They will then be gradually warmed up again.
The researchers will check on the patients six months after their injuries to see if they have suffered any disability as a result of the accident.
These results will be compared with patients who did not undergo the cooling procedure after their accidents.
Professor Peter Andrews, head of critical care medicine at Edinburgh University, said small studies had examined hypothermia and head injuries, but their study would specifically look at the effects on brain swelling and whether cooling could reduce pressure on the brain.
He said across Europe there were almost one million admissions to hospital a year because of traumatic brain injury and it contributed to 50,000 to 60,000 road traffic deaths, making it a major problem.
“Serious head injuries can have a devastating emotional and physical impact on the patient and their family,” Prof Andrews said.
“We are always trying to improve treatment for head injuries, and by bringing together experts from around the world we are hopeful that we will be able to make a real difference to patients’ survival and recovery.”
Around 30 patients in Scotland have already been enrolled in the trial out of 200 worldwide. The researchers hope to eventually study 600 patients.
Cooling procedures are already used to reduce the risk of brain injury after cardiac arrests, and similar techniques of inducing mild hypothermia have also been used on babies who have been starved of oxygen at birth.
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