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Carle Hospital Developing Brain Cooling Technique for Brain Injuries

Research at Carle Foundation Hospital will preserve the brain following an injury much in the way we'd do the same to a broken arm or ankle.

A year-long study will enable the use of cooling head covers for victims of severe head trauma or stroke. A $700-thousand contract from the Department of Defense will look at how patients respond to these devices. The goal is cooling the brain while the rest of the body is kept at a higher temperature.

Former NASA Scientist Bill Elkins is the founder and chief scientist of WElkins, LLC. His design for the cooling head device is based on those for spacesuits that he designed several years ago. Elkins says by 'hibernating' nerve tissue, that stops oxygen demand.

"It's like changing time, stretching time," he said. "What was the golden hour for irreversable damage now is now 5 or 6 or 7 hours. So it gives the doctors a lot more time to begin the recovery process." For example, in his first study, Elkins says there was a 16-year old girl seriously injured in a car accident. He says she was comatose, and near death. Cooling began about 4 hours after the accident, and Elkins says she was fully recovered within six months.

Carle Neurosurgeon John Wang compared the use of the devices to a child drowning in water, whose brain temperature, and risk of death, is much greater in the summer than the winter. "High temperature is bad for the brain," said Wang. "So then you say, I want to protect the brain, but I don't want to compromise the rest of the body, because the rest of the body likes to be at the physiological temperature, if possible. So then you start to think about a selective mechanism of cooling the brain."

The ultimate goal is to place the head covers in all emergency vehicles. Carle will hold a series of public meetings to let people know more about the research, and solicit community feedback:

Schedule for the Upcoming Meetings: January 25 - Bloomington Public Library, 205 E. Olive Street, 6 p.m.

February 8 -Champaign Public Library, 200 W. Green Street, 7 p.m.

February 9 - Burgess-Osborne Auditorium, 1701 Wabash Avenue, Mattoon, 6 p.m.

February 16 - Danville Public Library, 319 N. Vermilion Street, 6 p.m.

(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)

Categories: Health