The New York Times recently ran an article about a new study that is investigating whether the hormone progesterone could help treat brain injuries. One of the study participants highlighted in the article suffered a traumatic brain injury when she was hit by a car last December. The 18-year-old college student was struck by the car while crossing the street and flew 30 feet away.
Doctors told her parents that they were not sure if she would ever recover and felt her best hope was to be enrolled in the study on hormonal treatments. The progesterone must be administered within four hours of the traumatic brain injury. Earlier studies have shown that progesterone helps to improve the chance of surviving a brain injury.
Once a person survives, they still face a tough and extended recovery period — sometimes the rest of their life. Doctors involved in the study hope that progesterone helps to reduce the amount of disability following the brain injury. So far, the young woman highlighted in the story has learned to walk again and is hopeful she will return to college.
It is not known yet whether any of her recovery could be due to progesterone because doctors won’t know until the study is completed whether she received the hormone or a placebo.
The idea for using progesterone to treat brain injuries came about because one of the doctors in the study noticed that female rats remembered things better than male rats, especially if they were pregnant and had high levels of progesterone in their systems. Even if the rats had brain injuries, the females did better than the males with memory tasks.
About 1.7 million people in the U.S. suffer a traumatic brain injury every year and 50,000 die. Better treatments are needed for brain injuries to minimize damage to the organ and prevent or reduce future disability. It will be interesting to see the results of this new study.
Source: The New York Times, “Study Tests if Progesterone Can Save Lives After Brain Injury,” David Tuller, June 18, 2012