Public Release: 

Xenon gas protects the brain after head injury

Imperial College London

Treatment with xenon gas after a head injury reduces the extent of brain damage, according to a study in mice.

Head injury is the leading cause of death and disability in people aged under 45 in developed countries, mostly resulting from falls and road accidents. The primary injury caused by the initial mechanical force is followed by a secondary injury which develops in the hours and days afterwards. This secondary injury is largely responsible for patients' mental and physical disabilities, but there are currently no drug treatments that can be given after the accident to stop it from occurring.

Scientists at Imperial College London found that xenon, given within hours of the initial injury, limits brain damage and improves neurological outcomes in mice, both in the short term and long term. The findings, published in the journal Critical Care Medicine, could lead to clinical trials of xenon as a treatment for head injury in humans.

Although xenon is chemically inert, this does not mean it is biologically inactive. Xenon has been known to have general anaesthetic properties since the 1950s. Previous studies at Imperial have found that xenon can protect brain cells from mechanical injury in the lab, but this new study is the first time such an effect has been shown in live animals, a vital step before any new treatments can be tested in humans.

Mice were anaesthetised before having a controlled mechanical force applied to the brain. Some were then treated with xenon at different concentrations and at different times after injury.

Mice treated with xenon performed better in tests assessing their neurological deficits, such as movement and balance problems, in the days after injury and after one month. They also had less brain damage, even if treatment was delayed up to three hours after the injury.

Dr Robert Dickinson from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London, who led the study, said: "After a blow to the head, most of the damage to the brain doesn't occur immediately but in the hours and days afterwards. At present we have no specific drugs to limit the spread of the secondary injury, but we think that is the key to successful treatment.

"This study shows that xenon can prevent brain damage and disability in mice, and crucially it's effective when given up to at least three hours after the injury. It's feasible that someone who hits their head in an accident could be treated in the hospital or in an ambulance in this timeframe.

"These findings provide crucial evidence to support doing clinical trials in humans."

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The research was funded by the European Society for Anaesthesiology, the Royal College of Anaesthetists, the British Journal of Anaesthesia, the Medical Research Council and the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, Portugal.

Xenon is also being studied as a treatment for babies who experience oxygen deprivation during birth in a clinical trial led by Imperial and the University of Oxford. (https://www.npeu.ox.ac.uk/toby-xe)

For more information please contact:

Sam Wong
Research Media Officer
Imperial College London
Email: sam.wong@imperial.ac.uk
Tel: +44(0)20 7594 2198
Out of hours duty press officer: +44(0)7803 886 248

Notes to editors:

1. Rita Campos-Pires et al. 'Xenon improves neurological outcome and reduces secondary injury following trauma in an in vivo model of traumatic brain injury.' Critical Care Medicine, 2014. doi: 10.1097/CCM.0000000000000624

Link to journal article: http://journals.lww.com/ccmjournal/Abstract/publishahead/Xenon_Improves_Neurologic_Outcome_and_Reduces.97445.aspx

2. About Imperial College London

Consistently rated amongst the world's best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts 14,000 students and 6,000 staff of the highest international quality. Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and business, delivering practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.

Since its foundation in 1907, Imperial's contributions to society have included the discovery of penicillin, the development of holography and the foundations of fibre optics. This commitment to the application of research for the benefit of all continues today, with current focuses including interdisciplinary collaborations to improve global health, tackle climate change, develop sustainable sources of energy and address security challenges.

In 2007, Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust formed the UK's first Academic Health Science Centre. This unique partnership aims to improve the quality of life of patients and populations by taking new discoveries and translating them into new therapies as quickly as possible.

http://www.imperial.ac.uk

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