A novel experimental trial, led by one University of Minnesota professor, is working to treat traumatic brain injuries and concussions — without surgery.
The trial, led by Dr. Uzma Samadani — head of the Hennepin County Medical Center’s Brain Injury Research Lab and associate professor in the Department of Neurosurgery — uses a small device that sends electrical impulses through the skin to stimulate the vagus nerve and attempts to disrupt the generation of abnormal electrical currents in the brain.
Vagus nerve stimulation has been used in other smaller studies that have proven successful.
Though nerve stimulation has been used for many years, Dr. Samadani’s research is the first of its kind in the U.S. to work through skin — eliminating the need for surgery. Similar treatments have also been used in Europe to treat headaches.
The treatment requires holding the small device to the vagus nerve for two minutes twice a day.
The first trial patient was recruited at the end of 2016, and Dr. Samadani hopes to recruit 30 patients by the end of June.
The impact of traumatic brain injury can include cognitive deficiencies, difficulty speaking and understanding speech and loss of vision. In 2010, traumatic brain injuries caused 50,000 deaths in the U.S., according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A major issue with brain injuries is the dearth of people attributing problems after injury to concussions, said Dr. Jessica Brown, University assistant professor in The Department of Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences.
“We really need better ways to assess and treat brain injury. We are left with a lot of questions,” Dr. Brown said.
Dr. Samadani said right now, symptoms can be treated, but
researchers are unable to find cures. A large portion of her research is devoted to finding better, more precise ways to diagnose and treat brain injuries.
Last year, she began the largest study of concussions and brain injuries ever.
Diagnosis and support can be challenging when brain injuries are largely invisible, said David King, executive director of the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance.
Dr. Samadani’s new device, if successful, will help to eliminate
many of the accommodations necessary for traumatic brain injury patients.
“We’re really thrilled to be doing this research at Hennepin County Medical Center. We are at the forefront of the revolution of what we call electroceuticals, so I think that’s just an exciting place to be,” Dr. Samadani said.
Dr. Samadani will be the keynote speaker at the 32nd Annual Conference for Professionals in Brain Injury, hosted by the Brain Injury Alliance this spring.