Doctors using harmful cells to fight traumatic brain injury

WACH Fox News met with a researcher at Duke University who is finding a way to use harmful cells to rebuild the lives of millions of traumatic brain injury patients.

DURHAM, NC / COLUMBIA (WACH) - Traumatic brain injury, or TBI, according to the Center for Disease Control affects more than 1.7 million happen every year in the United States.

These injuries range from mild concussions to disabilities and even death. WACH Fox News met with a researcher at Duke University who is finding a way to use harmful cells to rebuild the lives of millions of TBI patients. We also spoke with a physician who saw his life altered following a TBI.

Dr. Chay Kuo is a professor at Duke University researching cells like astrocytes. Astrocytes are often seen as a block to healing damaged nerves in the brain. Once the brain is injured, the cells go to the site of the injury.

Kuo is using stem cells from the astrocytes to test how effective they can be at restoring brain function.

"One of the first things that happens is the brain has to stop bleeding to stop inflammation, but what we found is after the brain is injured, we found these astrocytes are really useful. They stop the brain from bleeding," said Kuo.

Kuo says astrocytes can cause many problems with the brain like tumors and other tissue damage.

Dr.Thomas Seastrunk knows just how hard life can be after a traumatic brain injury. The former Midlands physician's life was changed forever when he was injured in an accident caused by a drunk driver. The Irmo, SC native was left with brain damage.

After a year in rehab, he tried to go back to work, but the injury to his brain left him unable to fulfill his duties as a doctor.

" I felt if I were to make a mistake and hurt somebody, it wasn't fair to the patients," said Seastrunk.

Seastrunk uses his story to help others learn about brain injury through his work with the South Carolina Brain Injury Association. He also teaches martial arts.

Instead of reflecting on what he's lost, Seastrunk is looking ahead, He hopes his story will help heal others including those joining the fight against brain injuries.

"It's wonderful they're starting to get some studies done because we need help, whether it's with stroke or whether it's with brain injury, because all we're really studying is rehab," Seastrunk said

"Many people in my field who study stem cells in the brain are very interested in how they make neurons, because neurons don't regenerate and they don't make new ones," said Kuo.

Both men hope this research will be the winning move in the fight against traumatic brain injury.