Jello for the brain? Gelatin helps heal acute brain injuries, according to research

Science has come a long way as far as treating injuries to the human brain is concerned. It seems like every day you’ll hear about a new breakthrough in the field of brain research, and today is no exception. Researchers from the Neuronano Research Center or NRC at Lund University now have a better understanding of how exactly gelatin helps accelerate the healing of brain tissue.

That’s right, gelatin really is good for you, and not just as a type of food. Brain surgeons have been using it to aid them during surgery in order to reduce the amount of damage to brain tissue whenever they are operating. Electrode implants, in particular, are known to cause less damage to brain tissue with the help of a layer of gelatin coating. And now scientists have some inkling of how it works.

According to the researchers, a coating of gelatin changes the behavior of the brain’s cleansing cells. Whereas normally, “microglia” in the brain would act and release enzymes to begin the cleaning process that accompanies typical wounds and injuries, something else slightly different happens, all because of the presence of gelatin. The researchers say that understanding the reasons behind this is important not just for brain surgery but also for the development of brain implants.

Built-in brain protection

Brain researchers have already established the existence of something called the blood brain barrier (BBB), which helps in keeping harmful elements out of the brain by only letting certain types of molecules in. Injuries to the brain are known to cause leaks in it, which of course can lead to serious problems. Outside of injuries, simple penetration such as during a biopsy or brain surgery can have pretty much the same effect. In some cases, the leaks can turn into serious inflammation.

To a certain extent, brain surgeons are able to counteract this effect with the use of gelatin. As for why, the researchers say that the brain’s microglial cells — cleaning cells — just behave differently when gelatin is present. It turns out that different cells end up acting as the cleaning cells when there’s gelatin, and it just so happens that these cells are of the anti-inflammatory kind. The end result: Brain tissue heals much quicker because there is a smaller chance of inflammation.

“When we used gelatin, we saw only a small number of the inflammatory microglial cells,” says Lucas Kumosa, Ph.D., of Lund University. “Instead, we observed cells of a different kind, that are anti-inflammatory, which we believe could be significant in accelerating healing.”

It’s not exactly clear what happens with the usual microglial cells when this happens, but the researchers hypothesize that perhaps they are busy dealing with the gelatin itself, letting the anti-inflammatory cells take care of their job for them instead. Gelatin is a protein and is known to release amino-acids that need to be broken down during its decomposition phase, so that is what the usual microglial cells could be dealing with in the meantime, the researchers say.

Benefits of the research

It is said that research is currently underway on how electrode implants in the brain could be used in the treatment of some diseases like Parkinson’s or epilepsy. With the results of this research, perhaps experts in the field could come up with new ways to reduce damage to brain tissue when using such implants.

“Although the research field of brain electrodes is promising, it has been a challenge to find solutions that don’t damage the brain tissue,” explains Jens Schouenborg, Ph.D., Professor in Neurophysiology at Lund University. “Knowledge of how injuries heal faster with gelatin could therefore be significant for the development of surgical treatment as well.”

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