An article on a drug that may prevent long-term damage from traumatic brain injury hit me between the eyes. My dad suffered a closed head injury during World War II. After weeks in a coma, he learned to walk and talk again, and lived a relatively normal life into his early 70s. By then, fluid was building up behind scar tissue and he was getting a little fuzzy. Doctors said a shunt must be put in his brain to drain the fluid. This operation is relatively safe and done even on children with brain fluid diseases.
Unfortunately, the result of Dad's operation was disastrous. He came out of the surgery totally demented. He was given several anti-psychotics, each of which made him worse. He was moved to a nursing home, where he lived ten years, until his death. I've written often about those years and how we coped. That is another story.
Fast forward to 2007 and news of a new class of Alzheimer's drug breaks. The drug, a gamma-secretase inhibitor (GSI) deactivates gamma-secretase, an enzyme involved in amyloid-beta which is found in heavy concentrations in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease.
HealthDay News has released a story titled, "Alzheimer's Drug May Someday Help Head Trauma Victims," which is about a study done at Georgetown University Medical Center. The study that shows this drug, given to people who have had a traumatic head injury, may prevent complications such as my dad suffered.
Studies have shown that people who've had a traumatic brain injury have a 400 per cent higher chance of getting Alzheimer's disease. This study showed that even children who have traumatic head injuries have a build-up of plaque causing enzyme that is abnormal for their age.
These findings are published online in Nature Medicine. The findings "suggest that this class of drugs could do something no other drug has been able to do - prevent the long-term and continuing damage that often follows serious brain injury."
What a wonderful leap forward! We have soldiers coming back from Iraq with head injuries. We have sports enthusiasts who are at risk of head injuries. We have small children who are injured. I'm wondering - would this work in "shaken baby" situations, where a baby's brain is rattled around when an angry adult shakes the baby?
Am I dreaming of big results from this drug? Yes. Because I've witnessed the long-term damage of traumatic brain injury when it rears its ugly head years after the injury has "healed."
I have no idea how far this drug will go, but if it can prevent anyone from the nightmare we went through with my dad, it is nothing short of a miracle. To think that it could help so many people lower their risk of getting Alzheimer's because of an earlier injury makes my heart sing.
I hope these drug trials move forward quickly with results proving to be as good they look at this time. This is a drug that has potential to change the course of many people's lives. Let's hope the funding is there to push it forward.
For more information on traumatic brain injury and dementia, read Christine Kennard's post, "How Does Dementia Due to Head Injury Differ from Alzheimer's Disease?"
Published On: April 09, 2009