When your body gets injured, for example because of a car crash, damaged tissues and organs often increase in fluid content, resulting in swelling. Aside from the initial damage, the body's response can lead to increased tissue death. Tissues and cells that die because of sustained trauma are irreversibly lost, but the damage that occurs after the initial impact may be prevented. One of the possibilities of achieving this is reducing the amount of fluid that is causing swelling, and thereby also reducing the toxic substances that either cause more cells to die or induce damage because of inflammation. Scientists from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found a way to reduce fluid levels, which they achieved by using a vacuum pump.
Swelling is especially problematic in brain trauma, where the limited size of the skull can greatly increase pressure on brain tissue. This may result in blood flow being restricted, which is dangerous and can even be fatal. Because it is arguably our most delicate organ, it is understandable why the researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center focused their vacuuming technique on use in the brain. Because the method is still experimental, the pump was tested on animals. If it is proven to be safe and effective, human clinical trials may be started.
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An animal model for traumatic brain injury was used to test the vacuum pump, which consists of engineered biomaterials that were placed directly on the site of injury. A tube connected the synthetic material to a computer-controlled vacuum pump. Thereafter, the machine was allowed to apply a small sucking force on the site of injury, slowly drawing fluid over the course of 72 hours.
Brain swelling decreased significantly more over time in animals getting the vacuum pump when compared to animals with brain trauma that did not receive this treatment. The scientists also found a decrease in the release of toxic substances that normally follows after tissue damage. All in all, it resulted in a significant decrease in tissue death: animals receiving vacuum treatment managed to preserve 50 percent more brain tissue. Looking at the sharp increase in preserved tissue, it seems that an excess amount of fluid has a rather large impact on brain health after injury.
How much brain tissue manages to survive traumatic injury determines the degree of recovery, which is why it is of paramount importance to preserve as much as possible following the initial impact. Vacuum treatment seems promising, as it is able to prevent a large part of the secondary damage. Though, the fact that synthetic material needs to be applied directly on the site of injury limits its possibilities. Getting proper treatment to follow-up traumatic brain damage is highly important, as it can severely impact life after the injury. Recent studies have revealed the incidence of traumatic brain injury may be much higher than previously thought.