Researchers at the Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) may have found a way to reduce brain damage caused by a stroke or stroke-like event. In a study funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 10-day-old mice that had an hypoxic (lack of oxygen) or ischemic (lack of blood) brain injury were treated with a fat emulsion containing either DHA or EPA—omega-3 fatty acids. The researchers evaluated the mice’s neurological function 24 hours and 8 to 9 weeks after the brain injury. They discovered that the mice treated with the DHA omega-3 fatty acids had a significant reduction in brain injury. This did not hold true for those treated with EPA-omega 3. The DHA group also had significantly better results in multiple brain functions during the 8 and 9 weeks evaluation compared to the EPA-treated mice and the control group which went untreated.
(Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons)
How does DHA-Omega 3 work?
EPA and DHA are bioactive omega-3 fatty acids that are found in certain foods such as cold-water fish and in nutritional supplements. The CUMC researchers and other scientists have shown that these fish-oil fatty acids protect organs and cells in numerous ways after oxygen deprivation, reducing inflammation and cell death. They now know that these benefits apply to the brain as well.
The researchers also discovered an increased concentrations of DHA in the mitochondria of brains of the treated mice. Mitochondria are energy-producing structures in cells which are often injured by free radicals when blood flow is restored to the brain after a stroke. This process, known as reperfusion injury, is a common cause of additional brain injury following a stroke. “Our findings suggest that injecting the omega-3 fatty acid DHA after a stroke-like event has the ability to protect brain mitochondria against the damaging effects of free radicals,” said senior co-author, Vadim S. Ten, MD, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics at CUMC.
Why is this important?
According to the American Stroke Association:
- Approximately 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke every year and 87% of strokes are ischemic as opposed to hemorrhagic
- Stroke is the No. 5 cause of death in the United States, killing nearly 130,000 people a year (128,978). That’s one in every 20 deaths.
- Someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds.
- Every four minutes, someone dies of stroke.
- Stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability and the leading preventable cause of disability.
In addition, interruption of blood flow and oxygen supply to the brain during or shortly after birth is a major cause of brain damage in newborns. According to the National Institute on Health and the National Center for Biotechnology Information about 1 in 1,000 births involve incidents of severe perinatal asphyxia. This can cause life-long neurological impairments. Many of the pathways involved in this type of brain damage are similar to those in an adult stroke. It is believed that this research could reduce such traumatic brain injuries incurred during birth.
What’s the next step?
According to the CUMC Newsroom, senior co-author Richard J. Deckelbaum, MD, CM, the Robert R. Williams Professor of Nutrition (in Pediatrics), professor of epidemiology, and director of the Institute of Nutrition at CUMC states that, “Clinical trials are needed to determine if administering lipid emulsions containing DHA shortly after a stroke-like brain injury offers the same neuroprotective effects in babies and adults, as seen in mice. If successful, such trials could lead to the development of a novel therapy for stroke in newborns, children, and adults, addressing a major medical need.”
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