Researchers are to investigate whether cooling the bodies of people with head injuries could aid patient recovery.
The £2m international trial, led by the University of Edinburgh and funded by the National Institute for Health Research’s Health Technology Assessment Programme, could help the two million people who suffer a traumatic brain injury worldwide each year.
Scientists will investigate the effect of cooling in head trauma, which annually claims 50,000 lives and causes 80,000 to suffer long-term disability.
The aim of the study is to establish whether inducing hypothermia by lowering body temperature could help to protect the brain from further damage.
Inducing hypothermia puts the body into a state of artificial hibernation, in which the brain can survive with reduced blood supply.
Scientists say that brain swelling – caused by bleeding or bruising inside the skull – is common following road accidents or falls and can reduce the blood flow to the brain.
The team hopes that by cooling the body to between 32 and 35 degrees Celsius, they will lower brain pressure and therefore reduce the likelihood of long-term disability or death.
As part of the Eurotherm3235 trial, head injury patients will be given ice cold intravenous drips within 10 days of their accident. Patients will then be kept cool using either cold water blankets or cooling pads for at least 48 hours, after which they will be gradually re-warmed.
Researchers will check the patients’ progress six months after injury and then compare their recovery with those patients who were not cooled.
Cooling is already used to reduce brain injury after cardiac arrests and birth injuries. It is hoped it will have the same effect in head injury victims.
The trial – involving more than 50 centres around the world – will be the largest intensive care study to be carried out in brain injuries.
Professor Peter Andrews, Head of Critical Care Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Serious head injuries can have a devastating emotional and physical impact on the patient and their family. We are always trying to improve treatment for head injuries and by bringing together experts from around the world, we are hopeful that we will be able to make a real difference to patients’ survival and recovery.”
Source: The University of Edinburgh