The New England Journal of Medicine recently found that an inexpensive drug commonly prescribed to patients with “prolonged disorders of consciousness after traumatic brain injury” does significantly improve recovery speed. It is known as amantadine.
This study included 184 patients four to 16 weeks after a traumatic brain injury who were in a “vegetative or minimally conscious state” and were receiving inpatient rehabilitation. The study took place over a six-week period.
When taken off the medication for the final two weeks, patients taking the real drug showed slowed rates of improvement, indicating its effectiveness. At the end of the study, the recovery level of the two groups remained about the same.
An Associated Press (AP) article explains that amantadine is an inexpensive generic drug which was approved for the treatment of the flu in the 1960s. Later, nursing home patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease saw their symptoms improve after taking the medication, which hinted at the drug’s potential.
The AP reports that researchers found this drug affects the dopamine system of the brain, which controls alertness and movement, and approved it for Parkinson’s. Although it has been a common medication used to treat brain injuries ever since, this study was undertaken to figure whether it was safe.
At the end of the study, the article explains that no difference in side effects was seen between the group receiving amantadine and those receiving a dummy drug. These shared side effects included seizure, insomnia, and rigid muscles.
Along with this study into an unintended brain injury medication, The American Journal of Pathology reports that researchers in Japan recently found another medication developed to treat an unrelated condition that could benefit those with spinal cord injuries. ABC Newsreports that this drug, known as FTY720 or Gilenya, allowed mice to “recover some motor function when they were given the drug immediately after the injuries.” This drug was originally intended to treat multiple sclerosis (MS).
According to this study, the drug suppresses the immune system, which helps decrease inflammation brought on by injuries. It is this inflammation that can actually worsen the damage done by spinal cord injuries.
However, critics point to several holes in the promise of this medication, including testing which has been limited to mice and doubts about the practicality of a drug that needs to be administered immediately after an accident. Nevertheless, scientists point out that this drug does offer some promise in the struggling treatment research arena for spinal cord injuries.
According to Dr. Bruce Dobkin, director of the Neurologic Rehabilitation and Research Program at UCLA’s Geffen School of Medicine, “All the things we’ve done to try and improve walking haven’t turned out to be that great, like robotics, electrical stimulation and other interventions.”
With these two studies into treatments for spinal cord and brain injuries, doctors may have more weapons in the fight to help these patients, particularly because prevention is not always an option. One of the main culprits in these injuries is the nearly unavoidable task of operating or riding in a motor vehicle. Despite improvements in vehicle and road safety, automobile crashes continue to account for a great percentage of these injuries.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), motor vehicle accidents make up 46 percent of all spinal cord injuries. Furthermore, motor vehicle crashes make up the second highest cause of traumatic brain injuries, at 17.3 percent.
Although these drugs are not yet fully understood, these are promising signs for individuals and families who have had to struggle with these devastating injuries for so long without hope.