COOLING the skulls of stroke patients or newborns at risk from birthing complications can prevent swelling and brain damage, a new study has shown.

The technique is already routinely used to limit harm following a head injury.

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However, a study at Edinburgh University has shown that medically-induced cooling could also offer treatments for infants and stroke patients.

The researchers used 3D simulations to model the impact of cooling on the scalp to show that it can trigger a beneficial drop in temperature in the brain.

The results show that lowering the brain temperature after head injury or stroke helps relieve pressure inside the head to avert swelling and further injury, especially in critical cases.

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Researchers examined in greater detail than ever before how lowering scalp temperature impacts on blood vessels and tissue throughout the brain.

The model, developed by engineers in collaboration with medical experts at the university, is the first to take into account simultaneous flow, heat transfer and metabolism between arteries, veins and brain tissue in three dimensions throughout the organ.

The findings, obtained as 3D temperature and blood volume maps, could help develop and test therapeutic cooling techniques and inform sophisticated clinical trials.

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Using computer simulations, researchers from found that cooling the heads of newborn babies to 10°C would enable their core brain temperature to fall from a normal level of 37°C to below 36°C - which is recognised as low enough to aid recovery.

The researchers said this could dramatically help babies at risk of long-term damage from birth complications, without having to cool their entire body. When applied to adult brains, the model predicted cooling was able to precipitate a potentially beneficial 0.5°C drop, in line with clinical observations.

Dr Prashant Valluri, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Engineering, who led the study, said: "Our sophisticated model should enable speedy progress in developing optimum treatments involving brain cooling, and support the development of studies on brain health."

Professor Ian Marshall, of the University of Edinburgh's College of Medicine, who co-led the research, said: "Getting vital patient information such as core brain temperature is a challenge and is only currently possible through expensive MRI scans. A robust model which can predict temperature and blood flow is therefore the need of the hour."

Researchers who developed the latest model say it could be modified to mimic the effects of stroke in the brain, or the impact of administering drugs.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, was supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.