Nanomaterials could be the key to unlocking the mystery of traumatic brain injury

Breaking through to the brain

Since the NFL settled for $765 million in concussion related brain injuries, traumatic brain injuries have been pushed to the back of the news. But professional footballers are not the only ones affected by these injuries. Between 2 and 3 million Americans are affected by traumatic brain injury each year. This includes people who suffer head injuries as a result of falling or playing sports, adolescents who fall out of trees or people involved in car accidents.

There is no treatment to reverse the effects of a traumatic head injury. To make an accurate diagnosis, you will need to visit a medical facility for a CT or MRI scan, which both require large and expensive equipment.

Ester Kwon is a bioengineering professor at UC San Diego who heads the Nanoscale Bioengineering Research Lab in the Jacobs School of Engineering. She wants to change this. Kwon’s team is developing nanomaterials–materials with dimensions on the nanometer scale–that could be used to diagnose traumatic brain injury on the spot, be it a sports field, the scene of a car accident, or a clinical setting. They are also developing nanoparticles which can target the injured part of the brain and deliver specific therapeutics in order to treat it. This will improve the quality of life of the patient for the long term.