Monday, March 29, 2010

A Coma Will Just be a Quick Nap

Our brain is what makes us who we are, is it not? All aspects of our life are stored into this one unit. Knowing that we can definitely say that, an injury to the brain is a completely different story compared to that of a broken limb or a punctured lung. It's not as easy for the brain to heal and regain function after being damaged. Traumatic brain injury, often referred to as TBI, is thought to be extremely difficult to recover from. Well how about we inject some “female hormones” and see what happens?

In a recent article, Rita Rubin writes of an individual who suffered a serious injury from a traffic incident in 2004. This led to him receiving many scars and more importantly brain damages, landing him into a truly deep coma. Fascinatingly, he was able to recover in less than a year of his predicted “revival”. The key factor here is progesterone.

We tend to think progesterone as just being a steroid hormone involved in processes such as the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and fetal development. Progesterone actually has greater potential, such as functioning as a “protective hormone”.

It is not fully understood how progesterone works in protecting the brain though. Scientists do know that progesterone helps in the development of neurons of brain cells as well as reducing swells from trauma.

In an experimental study of progesterone, 100 patients with TBI were chosen to be tested on to ensure the safety of the hormone. The results displayed that there were no real side effects, but instead the study found that patients were 50% less likely to have died from brain trauma when administered progesterone compared to those who received placebos. Also, those with progesterone were less disabilitated.

The National Institute of Health, the NIH, has invested more than $14 million to this research to prove that it works. The trial will consist of 1,140 newly brain-injured patients at 17 hospitals and administering them progesterone or a placebo. This process would eventually take about four years to see results.

If this solution proves to be successful, then there will definitely still be concerns, especially ethical. The progesterone must be given to patients within a couple of hours after being injured. Therefore, it’s difficult to get consent from the individual’s family or even themselves. They would need to be informed of potential risks.

“The FDA granted an exception to the consent rule in this case, on the grounds that getting patient permission would make the research impossible and that treatment could significantly improve patients' health.” Would the patient and their family feel comfortable about this though?

Posted by Vinh Tran


  1. Progesterone seems to be very promising based on the results so far. The fact that the experimental study showed that patients were 50% less likely to have died from brain trauma when administered progesterone is amazing. I am glad the FDA is stepping up and granting an exception to the consent rule. I don’t see why patients wouldn’t want to take this, the results only seem to be beneficial. Hopefully the National Health Institute’s research will prove successful as well.

    Posted by Ryan Brooks

  2. I hope so as well. If there's any sign of a chance to prevent such a disaster to occur, I'm pretty sure my family would be all for it. Waiting for confirmation would just be a waste of time in my opinion.

    Posted by Vinh

  3. Wow, can the FDA decide to just inject you with a hormone in hopes that is does not effect anything else? In any case, this research is down a new road and very simple seeming. Adding a female hormone to the brain to aide in brain trauma. I would like to see how this study plays out and what the hormone does exectly. This is a great advance giving that accidents lead many lives to TBI.

    Posted by Amanda Hostetter