Human hormone study for brain injuries

Illustration of frontal part of brain

Injuries to the brain can result in severe permanent complications. Each day in the U.S., an average of 138 people will die from traumatic brain injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those whose wounds are not fatal may experience severe complications that will make them disabled for life. Even mild damage to the brain in the form of a concussion can cause lifelong loss of function. Concussions have been on the rise among children involved in sports, with a 57 percent increase in the number of TBI-related hospital visits among children under age 20.

Devastating injuries, few treatment options

Currently, there is no known treatment for brain injuries. Medical professionals’ options are limited to monitoring the patient’s breathing and blood flow to prevent further damage from occurring. Cell death resulting from lacerations, bruises and swelling is irreparable and rehabilitation usually involves a combination of physical, cognitive and emotional therapies.

New hope for preserving brain function

Fortunately, a new study involving a human hormone may lead to the first official treatment for TBI victims. The hormone, progesterone, occurs naturally in the human body. Although it is best known for the role it plays in pregnancy, both men’s and women’s bodies produce it. Research has indicated that progesterone can boost the healing process after a brain injury, bringing in new hope for victims of severe concussions and penetrating wounds to the head.

There is evidence that the hormone can reduce inflammation, prevent cell death, and rebuild ruptured portions of the blood-brain barrier following a trauma. The blood-brain barrier is a layer of cells protecting the brain from chemicals that are commonly found elsewhere in the bloodstream. Although these chemicals are harmless to most of the body, they can irritate and inflame brain cells. Keeping the blood-brain barrier in good form is crucial for minimizing loss of function resulting from a blow to the head.

A promising study

As a therapy for TBI, progesterone is currently still in the research phase. The trials are blinded, so TBI patients are unaware as to whether they have received the hormone or a placebo substitute. Patients must first receive the hormone within eight hours of their trauma, and they will continue to receive it for five days afterwards. Physicians are waiting to see how patients are doing at the end of the six months. So far, the results have been promising, with the added benefit that the naturally-occurring hormone has not been linked to any harmful side effects.