Evidence suggests that even a mild head injury can increase the risk of developing dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease later in life. However, a new study published in the current issue of Journal of Neuroscience shows initial promise for a treatment that might interrupt the process linking traumatic brain injury (TBI) to the development of a progressive degenerative brain disease.

According to a University of Kentucky news release, lead author Adam Bachstetter, PhD, and co-author Scott Webster, PhD, from the University of Kentucky’s Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, Lexington, Ky, wished to explore the chain of events linking TBI to the increased risk of dementia. In their study, they used mice that had been genetically altered to make a human protein called amyloid beta—reported to be a key player in the development of Alzheimer’s disease—and developed a surgical procedure to mimic the most common form of TBI.

“We wanted to know if we could accelerate the onset of memory problems in these mice, similar to what is believed to occur in humans,” Webster says in the release. It gave us a way to ask the important mechanistic questions that might one day lead to better treatment for head injury patients.”

Webster discusses the study in a recent video on the university website.

Starting 1 week after the TBI procedure, the researchers gave the mice a small molecule drug called MW151. Developed by Linda Van Eldik, PhD, director of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, and D. Martin Watterson, PhD, of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, MW151 is designed to block the overproduction of the molecules that cause inflammation in the brain following TBI.

After 3 weeks of treatment, study results indicate mice that received MW151 no longer showed learning and memory problems, but mice that did not receive the treatment showed profound learning and memory problems.

“MW151 was able to rescue the memory impairments in mice even when treatment was started a week after the injury,” Webster says. “The potential implications are compounded when you factor in that many people who suffer a mild brain injury don’t seek treatment right away.”

As the Baby Boomer generation continues to age, healthcare costs to treat Alzheimer’s disease could rise dramatically, increasing the already enormous strain on the healthcare system and families.

Van Eldik emphasizes the significance of the study’s findings, noting that, “As the signature injury of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and with approximately 1.5 million people in the United States each year seeking medical treatment for a traumatic brain injury, the impact of earlier onset of dementia in such a large number of people is simply unthinkable. Adam and Scott’s work could have a large impact both socially and economically.”

[Source: University of Kentucky News]