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New research has reportedly unveiled that the window of opportunity to provide possible treatments for patients suffering from traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) differs depending on whether the patient is a woman or a man. Every year, an estimated 1.5 million people in the U.S. suffer a TBI, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Scientists from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and Arizona State University teamed up on the first study looking at sex-targeted drug delivery for TBI in a five-year, $2.5 million project funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The study will be reportedly used to help design nanoparticle delivery systems targeting both sexes for treatment of TBI.
Rachael Sirianni, PhD, associate professor of neurosurgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth explained: “Under normal circumstances, most drugs, even when encapsulated within nanoparticles, do not reach the brain at an effective concentration due to the presence of the blood-brain barrier. However, after a TBI this barrier is compromised, allowing us a window of opportunity to deliver those drugs to the brain where they can have a better chance of exerting a therapeutic effect.”
Sirianni’s collaborator and co-lead investigator on this grant, Sarah Stabenfeldt, PhD, discovered that the window of opportunity created in the blood-brain barrier differed between men and women. This key finding led the team to apply for the grant from the NIH.
Under normal circumstances, the blood vessels in the brain are very selective about what they allow to enter it. This helps the brain protect itself from substances that might hurt neuron cells and create a very carefully controlled blood-brain barrier. However, during this second phase of healing following a TBI, those blood vessels are compromised and substances might be allowed to seep in.
One of the many factors believed to be causing this difference between female and male patients is varying levels and cycles of sex hormones, like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. While these levels already differ in healthy people, brain injuries can also cause additional hormone disruption for both sexes.
“The goal of this research is to develop different nanoparticle delivery systems that can target the unique physiological state of males versus females following a TBI. Through this research, we hope to develop an optimum distribution system for these drugs to be delivered to the brain and can hopefully find an effective treatment plan for TBIs,” Sirianni said.