Scientists are using slices of living human brain tissue to study which medicines can prevent brain cells from dying after a stroke.
Dr. Sergei Kirov, a neuroscientist in the Medical College of Georgia Schools of Medicine and Graduate Studies, has revealed that it is called anoxic depolarisation, and it primarily results from the brain getting insufficient blood and oxygen after a stroke.
The brain uses about 20 percent of the body's total energy, about 50 per cent of which is needed to run the pump that maintains healthy levels of sodium and potassium in and around brain cells.
Dr. Kirov says that a stroke takes away the pump's fuel, known as ATP, leaving neurons and supportive astroglial cells bloated and dysfunctional.
The researcher adds that cells die if the pumps do not start working soon.
According to him, resulting waves are responsible for much of the immediate brain cell death in the core of a stroke, and milder waves may continue to pound contiguous areas for hours or days, potentially increasing stroke size and damage.
Given that cells get a little more oxygen in the area called the penumbra, he thinks that there is the potential for recovery if the waves can be silenced.
Dr. Kirov has been examining whether several drugs can stop the pounding of the penumbra in an animal model, and has completed a small pilot study in human tissue.
The scientist, who directs MCG's Human Brain Laboratory, recently received a second grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to focus on the drugs' potential in human tissue.
"We only have one approved drug therapy for stroke and new approaches are needed to improve treatment for the third leading cause of death in western countries," he says.
His and other researchers believe that studying human tissue may be helpful in identifying therapies that have real clinical merit.
Dr. Kirov says: "Human brain slices as a model system can provide a missing link between animal models and patients and offer a unique chance to identify and study potentially useful therapeutics."
A special report on their work has been published in the journal Stroke.