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Could this drug help the victims of traumatic brain injuries?

Updated on: 2/26/2019

Ever since scientists realized that brain injuries can have long-term cognitive consequences, the medical field has struggled to figure out how to treat the lingering symptoms of trauma to the body’s most important, and delicate, organ. Even after the initial life-threatening complications of a brain injury are averted, patients recovering from a traumatic brain injury may report months or years of memory problems, depressive disorders, and other cognitive symptoms.

In a recently released study, researchers examined the possibility of using an antidepressant medication in order to avert depressive disorders caused by a traumatic brain injury. Their randomized clinical trial included 94 patients; some received a low dose of the drug sertraline, while others were assigned a placebo.

After 24 weeks of follow-up, researchers concluded that the study participants who took 100 mg/day of sertraline, starting early after their brain injury was diagnosed, had a lower chance of developing a depressive mood disorder as a result of their injury.

A combination of therapeutic methods may be useful

Although this study’s sample size was small, the authors hope that more researchers will run experiments using sertraline. They concluded that the drug may be most useful in combination with other methods of treating TBI symptoms, stating, “Given the prevalence and functional effect of depression among patients with TBI, these findings have profound therapeutic implications.

However, although our findings are novel and provocative, recommending a change in the guidelines to treat patients with TBI requires replication of these findings in multicenter studies. In addition, it would be important to study whether combining antidepressants with behavioral interventions, such as psychotherapy or cognitive rehabilitation protocols, will optimize long-term functional outcomes.”

Sertraline is not the only treatment that researchers are currently looking into in hopes of a brain injury treatment breakthrough. A study released in 2013 found that bright light therapy might reduce some of the cognitive effects of a traumatic brain injury by improving sleep, brain function, cognition, and emotion.

An earlier study in an animal model suggested that a drug combination of minocycline plus N-acetylcysteine might have promising effects in treating cognitive and memory issues post-injury. And researchers in 2009 experimented with an injectable biomaterial gel that might someday help the victims of traumatic brain injuries to generate new brain tissue at the site of an injury.

For the most part, however, brain injury research has focused on identifying high-risk populations and coming up with new safety techniques to reduce the risk of a brain injury. Researchers are currently in the process of looking into improved helmets and head protection for athletes, blast protection for members of the military, and rule changes in sports for young athletes with vulnerable, developing brains.

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