The fact that women typically rehabilitate from traumatic brain injuries better than men may be linked to the fact that they produce the hormone progesterone, which aids in the female menstrual cycle and pregnancy. While not a steroid in itself, progesterone is very similar to steroids and they have played an essential role in treating the inflammation of the brain tissue following brain injuries.
Pittsburgh’s CBS affiliate KDKA recently told the story of 21-year old Kevin Conwell, who suffered a brain injury as the result of a serious car accident in 2011. Doctors at Allegheny General Hospital informed his mother than they had an opportunity to introduce Kevin into a research trial that would administer progesterone to his brain to calm the swelling and assist in stopping the deep brain bleeding.
“The effect of the drug is to decrease the inflammation and brain swelling,” explains Dr. Khaled Abdel Aziz, a neurosurgeon at Allegheny General Hospital.
“We say it clear to the family that this is an experimental medication,” says Dr. Aziz.
Allegheny is actually one of at least 115 hospitals and medical centers across the United States participating in this trial with the hopes of eventually receiving FDA approval for the use of progesterone in treating patients like Kevin. The trial is available for both male and female TBI patients between the ages of 18 and 70. There currently more than 600 patients enrolled in the trial, and the physicians and researchers backing this trial would like to have 1,200 patients by the time results are determined in 2013.
“When you’re severely injured or traumatized, you’d do anything to get your loved one back,” says Dr. Aziz. “I think there’s nothing better than seeing a sick patient gets, recover. And it brings happiness to everyone.”
Since his accident, Kevin has shown significant progress in recovery, as he has been walking, talking, and interacting with people. His impressive recovery could mean success for this trial, currently in Phase III, or the final testing period. During this phase, the drug or treatment in question is administered to a large group of patients, with half of them receiving progesterone and the other half receiving a placebo. Kevin’s recovery, if the result of taking progesterone, would be the sign of a substantial breakthrough in treating severe brain injuries.