Health & Wellness Science & Technology

Researcher gets $1.88M to study blood-brain barrier

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Yao Yao, assistant professor in the department of pharmaceutical and biomedical sciences at the University of Georgia’s College of Pharmacy, has been awarded a $1.88 million National Institutes of Health research grant to find new treatments for stroke and other diseases involving the blood brain barrier, a complex structure that determines what enters and exits the brain.

Yao Yao

Specifically, the blood brain-barrier permits the passage of essential molecules, such as oxygen, while keeping harmful molecules out. This barrier helps maintain the entire central nervous system, and when it breaks down, the results can be catastrophic.

“Blood-brain barrier disruption induces secondary brain injury and is a key pathology of many neurological diseases,” said Yao.

The research group is especially interested in the role that the protein laminin plays in forming and maintaining the blood-brain barrier. Laminin binds organs and tissues together in the body and is a crucial component of the blood-brain barrier.

Yao and his team not only hope to increase the understanding of the blood-brain barrier but also promote the development of new therapies for neurological disorders with blood-brain barrier disruption, including stroke. The team has developed new research tools to lay the foundation for future studies that will facilitate safer, more effective treatments for these diseases.

Using genetically tailored mouse models, the team discovered that different kinds of laminin play complex and diverse roles in stroke and other diseases, some protective and some harmful.  They have published results this year in several journals, including Acta Neuropathologica Communications, Translational Stroke Research, and CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics.

Of particular note, the research team published an article on the role of laminin-511, one type of laminin produced by endothelial cells that line the interior surface of blood vessels, in hemorrhagic brain injury in Translational Stroke Research earlier this year.

Yao and his colleagues were able to show clearly that laminin-511 plays a protective role during hemorrhagic stroke.

When stroke-like brain injury was induced in the lab, damage was more severe in mice lacking laminin-511 in endothelial cells. The results of the study suggest that possible new approaches to the treatment of stroke may result from further investigation of the role of laminin in blood-brain barrier disruption.

“Understanding how exactly laminin regulates blood-brain barrier integrity may lead to innovative therapies for various neurological disorders with blood-brain barrier breakdown,” Yao said.