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Stem Cells and Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment Helping with Traumatic Brain Injury

Both Hyperbaric Oxygen (HBO) treatment and Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSC‘s) have been used as interventions for patients suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Though each of these therapeutic approaches can confer benefits to patients, researchers have shown that combining the two techniques can yield better results for this population of patients than either method can achieve alone. The scientists published their findings in Neural Regeneration Research earlier this year.

The transplantation of MSC‘s and the use of HBO are each effective in treating TBI for different reasons. Mesenchymal stem cells can proliferate rapidly, differentiate into many different types of cells, and do not tend to cause adverse immune reactions. While HBO treatment can enhance the brain’s aerobic metabolism, providing brain tissue with more oxygen. All of these effects are helpful after TBI has occurred. However, MSC‘s alone can be limiting in their therapeutic potential because only a fraction of those that are transplanted differentiate into mature brain cells. Because hyperbaric oxygen treatment both protects injured tissue and also supports the differentiation and migration of MSC‘s, researchers hypothesized that combining the therapies would improve lead to better neurological and cognitive outcomes following TBI than either treatment would alone.

To test their idea, the scientists induced TBI in rats to establish a rat model of the condition. They then treated one group of rats with just HBO, transplanted MSC‘s in another group of rats that did not undergo HBO, and used both interventions in a final group of rats. The researchers then looked both at physiological markers associated with TBI, as well as cognitive performance on a learning and memory task.

The results showed that rats that underwent both MSC‘s transplantation and HBO had better neurological outcomes and better cognitive performance scores than rats that endured only one type of treatment. Given these promising findings in an animal model of TBI, future research will likely address the translatability of these findings to humans. Now that a proof-of-concept exercise has been successful, there is significant support for the potential of this combination treatment regimen to help people who experience TBI.


Zhou, H. X., Liu, Z. G., Liu, X. J., & Chen, Q. X. (2016). Umbilical cord-derived mesenchymal stem cell transplantation combined with hyperbaric oxygen treatment for repair of traumatic brain injury. Neural Regen Res, 11(1), 107-113. doi: 10.4103/1673-5374.175054


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