Inert gas may help stop damaged nerve cells from dying

Scientists from Imperial College London have discovered that xenon gas could help in protecting damaged nerve cells.

The research, published today in Anesthesiology, shows that xenon, an inert gas, acts as a neuroprotectant, helping to protect damaged nerve cells from dying. Based upon pre-clinical trials, researchers believe it could have human applications, eventually leading to treatments for people suffering from nerve damaging illnesses, such as strokes, and brain and spinal cord injuries.

Professor Nick Franks, a biophysicist from Imperial College London had been investigating possible molecular targets which could be responsible for the action of different anaesthetics. In one experiment, he and his colleagues had found that xenon was capable of blocking the effects of a particular type of glutamate receptor – the same receptor implicated in the pathway that leads to nerve cell death.

Professor Mervyn Maze, an anaesthetist from Imperial College London, at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, comments: “This could prove to be an effective treatment for patients suffering from neurological injuries. At present, nerve cells cannot regenerate when they die, but by using xenon we may be able to stop those cells from dying in the first place.”

Professor Nick Franks adds: “The use of xenon could provide a novel medical treatment. It is naturally occurring, and more importantly, its known lack of toxicity makes it an attractive candidate as a neuroprotectant in humans.”

At present, xenon has only been found to be effective in pre-clinical trials, but this application will shortly go into clinical trials in both the UK and the USA. An Imperial College spin-out company, Protexeon, has also been formed to develop clinical applications, in conjunction with Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., the world’s only combined gases and chemicals company, which has medical gases and related services as a core business.

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