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Squirrels May Hold The Key To Brain Damage Prevention In Stroke Patients

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The solution to preventing brain damage in stroke patients may lie in an unusual source: squirrels.

Researchers in the United States have found that when squirrels hibernate, their cells undergo a protective process which allows their brains to work even with reduced oxygen and blood flow, The Telegraph reports. When the squirrels wake up, they don’t suffer any negative effects despite having been deprived of some essential nutrients.

When an ischemic stroke occurs, a person’s blood supply – containing sugar and oxygen – is cut off to the brain, resulting in cells dying. This frequently causes paralysis and speech problems.

Scientists at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) believe that developing a drug that could trigger similar changes occurring in squirrels could possibly prevent brain damage. Joshua Bernstock, lead author, says,

If we could only turn on the process hibernators appear to use to protect their brains, we could help protect the brain during a stroke and ultimately help people recover.

Currently, the only way to minimize the effects of cell death due to stroke is to remove the blood clot as quickly as possible. However, if there was a treatment that could be quickly administered to help the brain survive without blood and oxygen, patient health would be radically improved, scientists say.

The process that squirrels undergo is called SUMOylation, which can be boosted by the enzyme ebselen, according to experts.

When ebselen was injected into animal brain cells, the cells remained alive, even when oxygen and blood were lacking. Further experiments also revealed that ebselen ramped up SUMOylation in the brains of healthy mice.

Dr. Francesca Bosetti, program director at NINDS, said, “For decades scientists have been searching for an effective brain-protecting stroke therapy to no avail. If the compound identified in this study successfully reduces tissue death and improves recovery in further experiments, it could lead to new approaches for preserving brain cells after an ischemic stroke.”

The study was published in the journal of the Foundation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

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