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A new medical breakthrough may provide more hope for victims of traumatic brain injuries, according to reports from the National Institutes of Health this week. A study was conducted to determine whether the reproductive hormone progesterone would have any effect on healing the traumatic injuries, and the initial results look promising.

According to the study, patients must receive the massive infusion of hormones within four hours of the injury, and outcomes are generally assessed after about six months.

The trials are generating a buzz within the medical community because no drug therapy has been available to treat the worst symptoms of traumatic brain injury. This research endeavor may reveal the first pharmaceutical treatment for TBI sufferers.

Emory University researchers said that during the first trial, the mortality rate among TBI patients dropped precipitously in the group receiving progesterone. Their mortality rate was just 13 percent after 30 days, as compared to 30 percent in the control group. In addition, people with moderate brain injury reported better functional outcomes, such as cognitive and motor skill development, if they received the boost of hormones after their injury.

Traumatic brain injuries have become increasingly important in the medical community, primarily because more soldiers are returning from combat zones with evidence of head trauma. Also, an increased focus on concussions in sports such as hockey and football has raised national awareness about the problem. More than 5 million Americans become disabled as a result of TBI each year, at a cost of roughly $76 billion in medical care annually.

Progesterone is helpful for TBI patients, doctors believe, because it lowers the risk of cerebral swelling, which protects fragile brain cells during the critical hours after an incident. The hormone also seems to have a protective effect against degenerative free radicals, and it appears to promote nerve regeneration when correctly used. If the findings continue to be positive, experts say that progesterone treatments may expand to help stroke and other brain injury victims.

Source: New York Times, “A hormonal remedy for brain injuries is explored,” David Tuller, June 18, 2012