Biopharma producing CBD from algae (5/9/19 newsletter)

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A San Diego based company is developing medications by producing non-psychoactive cannabinoids from microalgae for the purpose of treating concussions, neurodegenerative diseases, and pain management. Renew Biopharma Inc is a synthetic biology company which “relies on molecular biology and pathway engineering instead of using agriculturally-grown cannabis plants.” CEO Mike Mendez explains that cannabinoids are a promising treatment for traumatic brain injuries because  “cannabinoid molecules can cross the blood-brain barrier,” according to an article in Midas Letter.


A new quantitative study by Cecchi et al. published in PLOS-One, explores head impact risks in water polo. Water polo is a full contact water sport with lots of grappling that has a high potential for head injury and concussion. This study measured head velocity by having players wear caps with integrated head impact sensors, allowing researchers at UCI to analyze data from games and practices to see which positions and in what circumstances head impacts were most common and severe. It was found that the center positions had the highest risk, with 37% of the head impacts coming in this position; the center positions are where most of the wrestling (under and above water) and scoring occurs. Read more in Julian Szieff’s blog post.

Following up on our article last week, the Tottenham Spurs football (soccer) club announced that Jan Vertonghen did not get a concussion during the game against Ajax. Vertonghen was assessed by an independent neurologist two days after the game; several days rest were advised.

As part of the trend towards protecting children from the risks of tackle football, the YMCA of Northwest Louisiana has announced that beginning in the fall of 2019, all its football leagues will play flag football only.

Mental Health

Up to 75% of U.K. "military veterans who seek help for long-term mental distress have experienced repeated mild brain injury,” a similar rate to that of US combat veterans, according to a study by Emma Denby, BSc et al. published in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation. An important discovery of the study is that dizziness may be “one cause of the long-term depression, anxiety, headache, and forgetfulness” precipitated by repeated concussions. The director of the study, Professor David Wilkinson, said that “Balance function is not routinely assessed in military veterans, yet our results suggest that if doctors assess and treat the dizziness then other hard-to-treat psychological symptoms may also start to recover,” according to an article in Medical Express.


Clinical trials will begin for a portable blood test which will assess for a brain injury within minutes, right by the person’s side, using only two or three drops of blood, according to an article in MASS Device. The blood test will measure proteins (GFAP and UCH-L1) that are released from the brain when injured, and travel to the blood; these are referred to as blood biomarkers (Abbott press release). The technology and the clinical trials are a joint project of the Department of Defense; Abbott, a medical technology company; and TRACK-TBI (Transforming Research and Clinical Knowledge in Traumatic Brain Injury), one of the largest TBI research efforts in the world.

A study of children with activity-related concussions found that more than 25% of the subjects developed visual dysfunction as a result of their concussion, according to an article in MD Magazine. The study also found that the children who had visual dysfunction due to a concussion had a longer recovery time; 64 days compared to 39 days for the children who did not have visual dysfunction. Lead investigator Premkumar Gunasekaran described the concussion-related vision problems in a video (details of vision problems at the end of this email). The study was presented at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology. For more information see our page on Vision Therapy.

Complementary & Alternative Therapies

Complementary and alternative therapies for the long-term treatment of concussions is discussed in a TBI Special Report for Neurology Times. The author, Brandon Lucke-Wold, MD, Ph.D., MCTS, points to data indicating that intervening in the neurometabolic injury cascades caused by concussions, particularly repeated concussions, may prevent “neurotrauma-related neurodegeneration.” The interventions include supplements such as DHA (reduces endoplasmic reticulum stress), and Lipoic acid (reduces oxidative stress and prevents neuronal injury), as well as magnesium and vitamins D and E. Sustained “cerebrovascular-promoting exercise," in addition to mindfulness practices such as meditation and massage were found to improve outcomes.

Sleep deficiency is frequently a symptom of concussions, and sleep deficiency also delays recovery. A proof-of-concept study showed that hand self-shiatsu improved sleep quality and reduced daytime fatigue in seven concussed athletes; the study was authored by Pei Qin et al. and published in the Journal of Integrative Medicine. Self-shiatsu is a very specific type of massage; we suggest a video produced by Toronto Western Hospital which features Leisa Bellmore, Shiatsu Therapist, demonstrating how to do hand self-shiatsu to reduce pain and promote sleep.


More than a quarter of all helmets worn by hockey players, from the NHL to youth leagues, are unsafe” according to a new study by researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, which also produces the influential football helmet ratings that have “led companies to overhaul their product lines,” according to an article for ESPN. Only one of the 32 hockey helmets on the market received three stars, while most earned only one or two stars, and nine helmets “failed to earn a single star on a five-star scale and were classified as ‘not recommended.’” About the non-recommended helmets, the head of the study, Stefan Duma, said “‘We don’t think anybody should be wearing these helmets.’” The helmets were previously certified as safe by the Hockey Equipment Certification Council, a nonprofit which has helmet manufacturers on their certification committee.


The University of Georgia’s School of Education is running a Cognitive-Communication Rehabilitation Lab exploring functional rehabilitation for people with TBI returning to work or school. The lab reports that “between 16 and 28% of college students report a history of traumatic brain injury or concussion,” and is designing improved Return to Learn protocols for secondary and post-secondary students.

Vision Dysfunctions described by researcher

Accommodation - difficulty with changing focus between near and distant images. 
Convergence - eyes work together to look at near objects, such as reading.
Eye tracking, such as skipping lines when reading. 

This week's contributors

Malayka Gormally, Conor Gormally, and Julian Szieff.