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New study on the brain’s water channels offers hope to those with brain and spinal cord damage

An international research team has discovered a treatment that dramatically reduces swelling after brain and spinal cord damage. By using an already approved drug on rats, the brain’s water channels could be manipulated with positive results. The new study offers hope to the millions of people who are affected by brain and spinal cord damage.
Woman in laboratory. Photo.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around 75 million people globally suffer brain and spinal cord damage due to falls, road traffic accidents, sports activities and stroke every year. The damage is often fatal or leads to permanent disabilities. Current treatment methods have a limited effect and often entail considerable risks for the patient. However, in a new study, which was presented in the research journal, Cell, an international team, including researchers from Lund University, developed a new form of treatment. By using an already approved drug, trifluoperazine (TFP), the researchers succeeded in manipulating water channels in the brain’s cell membranes, the so-called aquaporins.

“Our results pave the way for an entirely new treatment option. It is the first time that it has been shown that a drug could be used to affect the aquaporins’ activity. All previous efforts to develop a drug that blocks aquaporins have failed”, says Susanna Törnroth-Horsefield, chemistry professor at Lund University.

The drug TFP has traditionally been used to treat patients with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. As long-term use has been associated with side effects, the discovery that a single dose has a significant and long-lasting effect on brain swelling is particularly promising. In addition, TFP is already approved in the USA and UK, which means that the drug can be quickly brought into use for the treatment of patients with brain and spinal cord damage.

“Our results provide new treatment possibilities for the 75 million people in the world who suffer brain or spinal cord swelling each year”, says Susanna Törnroth-Horsefield.

In addition to Lund University, the following higher education institutions and organisations participated in the work: Aston University, Harvard Medical School, Boston Children’s Hospital, University of Mosul, University of Birmingham, University of Calgary, Shaqra University, University of Copenhagen and University of Wolverhampton.

The article was published in the research journal Cell.

Article: "Targeting Aquaporin-4 Subcellular Localization to Treat Central Nervous System Edema" – sciencedirect.com

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