Australian researchers have successfully harnessed the healing power of seaweed to develop a new technique that can heal damaged brain tissue. Dr Richard Williams from RMIT University and Associate Professor David Nisbet from The Australian National University have created a “hydrogel scaffold” that works in damaged brains. (Healthy cells exist in a scaffold that is mostly water with proteins forming a web, known as a hydrogel.)
While the brain can theoretically 'repair itself', researchers have found under closer scrutiny that the brain can’t manage this on its own (as it seals a wound away to heal behind a scar, due, in part, to inflammation).
According to Dr Williams: “Traumatic brain injury results in devastating long-term functional damage as the natural inflammatory response to injury prevents regrowth. This stops or prevents the healing process. So it’s critical that you find a natural way to stop the inflammation and scarring, yet encourage healing.” That’s where Dr Williams’ and Dr Nisbet’s novel use of seaweed comes in.
Working with a Tasmanian biopharmaceutical company, the researchers combined a natural anti-inflammatory polysaccharide (sugar molecule) found in seaweed with short peptides (small proteins) to create the hydrogel scaffold that matches the structure of healthy brain tissue. “The hydrogel scaffold was shown to support the wound, prevent scarring and improve healing,” Dr Williams said. “Incredibly, it had a positive effect on cells a long way from the wound".
The breakthrough offers new hope for treating traumatic brain injuries and improving patients' functional outcomes.