An image of a patient with a traumatic brain injury. The arrow points to the empty space previously filled by healthy tissue. Photo: Jmh649/Wikimedia Commons

The use of bone marrow stem cells is safe in treating children with brain trauma, a team from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston determined.

The results of the clinical trial, featured in the journal Neurosurgery, focused on 10 children between the ages of 5 and 14 who received treatment shortly after arriving at the hospital with severe traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).

The research team extracted bone marrow cells from the hip bone of each patient, separated and processed the stem cells, and injected them back into the patient. Using the patients' existing cells reduced the possibility of their immune systems attacking the manipulated cells.

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Specifically, the researchers used bone-marrow-derived mononuclear cells. Bone marrow cells are known to help restore blood and immune system function.

After examining the patients each day during the six months following the procedure, the University of Texas scientists concluded their technique was safe. They reported no deaths and improved outcomes when compared to the results of typical cases of TBI.

It's important to remember that the study looked at the safety of the procedure, not necessarily its efficacy or effectiveness. Since the researchers excluded some children from the treatment, they admit they are not able to draw conclusions about the overall effectiveness of the treatment from this experiment. Instead, they'll have to do more research with a wider array of patients.

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But based on promising results in preclinical trials and the results of the study, researchers still believe the procedure may be a realistic option for other patients in the future.

Each year, TBIs contribute to some 30 percent of all injury-related deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Young children, adolescents and people over the age of 65 are the most likely to experience a TBI.

TBIs have many causes, but falls and automobile accidents are at the top of the list. Often, TBIs damage the structure of the brain and patients' cognitive abilities and communication skills.