This is a continuation of our last post. We were discussing a recently published study of a drug to treat cerebral palsy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 300 children in the U.S. has CP. The permanent brain damage and physical impairment that characterize CP can make life complicated for that child and his or her family.
A number of things can lead to CP. A prenatal bacterial infection, a head injury or even a medical mistake during delivery can result in brain damage that causes CP. In some cases, the CP won't become apparent until the child starts to walk. The damage affects the child's ability to move; for children and adults with CP, that means trouble walking or standing, as well as problems with balance.
Most closed-head brain injuries are caused by swelling. The skull protects the brain, but it also constricts it. When you bruise your knee, it swells. The same thing happens when you bruise your brain -- if it hits the skull hard enough, it will swell. But there isn't a lot of extra room in the skull, so the damaged part of the brain puts pressure on the healthy parts. Those brain cells, in turn, sustain temporary or permanent damage or, in some cases, die.
The prenatal bacterial infection that often leads to CP works a little like that. The infection causes swelling -- think of an impacted wisdom tooth -- and, in this case, both the infection and the swelling kill brain cells, sometimes for months.
So, the researchers thought that reducing the swelling would stave off the brain damage and the CP. The challenge was how to deliver the drugs to the inflamed brain cells without affecting the healthy ones.
This is where the science comes in, and we are reluctant to dive into the difference between a microglia and an astrocyte. Nor are we inclined to research exactly what the blood-brain barrier is. We will leave it this way: The scientists developed a drug that would target exactly the right spot, and they were impressed by the results.
We'll finish this up in our next post.
Source: FoxNews.com, "Cerebral palsy drug may offer hope for treatment," Rachael Rettner, April 19, 2012