Assistant professor of bioengineering Ning Zhang has shown that the biomaterial gel made up of both synthetic and natural sources has the potential to spur the growth of a patient's own neural stem cells in the body, structurally repairing the brain injury site.
Previously, Zhang has demonstrated the reconstruction of a complete vascular network at the injury site as an initial step toward brain tissue regeneration.
With this new procedure, the hydrogel is injected into the lesion site to direct the response of neural stem cells in the brain to regenerate normal brain tissue at the lesion site.
"We have seen an increase in brain injuries due to combat, but our strategy can also potentially be applied to head injuries caused by car accidents, falls and gunshot wounds," said Zhang.
"These results that we are seeing in adult lab rats are the first of its kind and show a sustained functional recovery in the animal model of TBI (traumatic brain injury).
"It also represents one of very few in the traumatic brain injury field that attempts structural repair of the lesion cavity using a tissue-engineering approach," Zhang added.
Zhang predicts the procedure may be ready for human testing in about three years.
The study was presented at the Military Research Forum in Kansas City.