Researchers have discovered a completely new way to treat stroke and head trauma victims, potentially saving the lives of numerous such patients. The discovery was made by the NordForsk-financed Nordic Centre of Excellence on Water Imbalance Related Disorders (WIRED).

After head trauma or after stroke, brain swelling - caused by an influx of water into the brain is one of the factors most likely to cause death, taking a great toll on society in terms of human suffering and economical costs.

The development of efficient therapies for this condition has been hampered by a lack of information regarding the route of water flow into the brain. But new data from the NordForsk-financed WIRED have singled out the water channel called aquaporin-4 as the carrier of water from the blood and into the brain.

This has opened up new possibilities for treating stroke and head trauma victims. By simply closing these water channels in the brain, the swelling can be significantly reduced. Reduced brain swelling drastically improves patients' chances of avoiding long-term damage and increases survival prospects. Stroke affects almost 100 000 patients each year in the Nordic countries. Improved ways to treat these patients will considerably reduce the human suffering and economic costs associated with this condition.

The Centre is now actively searching for drugs that can be used to close the water channels in the brain, and some very promising candidates have been identified.

However, knowledge of water transport and water channels in the human body is not only relevant to stroke patients. Such knowledge could also help improve the treatment of patients with kidney disease and might in the future lead to new therapies for patients with migraine. More than 10% of the Nordic population is affected by migraine, and researchers believe that the condition is associated with a perturbation of water transport.

The impressive research results achieved by WIRED were made possible by the unique environment that the Nordic countries offer for research in the field of molecular medicines. Assets include extensive and reliable patient and epidemiological registries, biobanks, uniform high level health care systems, as well as a strong tradition in genetic and biomedical research.

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