By Tania Hershman June 24, 2007
The brain is a sensitive organ. 1.4 million people in the US sustain a traumatic injury to the brain each year, whether in a traffic accident, from a blow to the head or assault, and every 45 seconds, on average, someone suffers a stroke - a blood clot in the brain. Both these conditions - and others such as brain cancer or meningitis - can cause permanent neurological damage.
A Weizmann Institute of Science researcher is developing a drug that, by removing toxic amounts of a chemical produced during the trauma, could drastically reduce damage to the brain.
"My field is neuropharmacology, the influence of drugs on the brain," explains Professor Vivian Teichberg of the Weizmann Institute's Department of Neurobiology, a chemist by training, who searches for drug-mediated solutions to brain diseases. His focus is a neurotransmitter called glutamate, a chemical that relays messages between brain cells.
Glutamate plays a vital role in the functioning of the brain, but it also has a dark side: "When you suffer a head trauma or a stroke, the brain reacts in a negative way," Teichberg told ISRAEL21c. "One of the consequences is the release of glutamate: when a cell dies it releases a large amount of glutamate, which over-excites neighboring cells and kills them."
This is a chain reaction which leads to the deaths of many more cells than just those directly affected by the head injury or blood clot. In a stroke, for example, the area at risk can be 10 times the size of the core area where the blood clot originated. While the core brain cells can't be saved, those cells that would be killed by the excess glutamate can be - if reached in time.
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