(09/13/12) - A drug, originally approved to treat flu symptoms, may help brain injury patients heal faster.
Brain injuries have a lot of different causes - and every year, nearly two million American's suffer them.
But Amantadine, a drug approved decades ago to treat flu-related respiratory infections, is now helping speed, and even improve recovery for some patients.
Life for Kim and her husband, John, changed in an instant. For unknown reasons, Kim suffered a brain hemorrhage.
When she awoke from surgery, John says, she was in a minimally conscious state. "She could squeeze your finger, but wasn't communicative. She would say typically one word or up to three word answers for things and would tend not to speak at all unless spoken to."
There is no standard treatment for severe brain injuries but, Dr. Joseph Giacino hopes his research will help change that. "This is the first trial to demonstrate that we can indeed influence the course of recovery from severe traumatic brain injury."
Dr. Giacino is the director of rehabilitation neuropsychology, at Harvard Medical School's Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. The trial he is working on is focused on Amantadine. The drug is now commonly used for Parkinson's.
In the trial, brain injury patients were either given Amantadine or a placebo for four weeks. At four weeks, the flu drug group improved by one point over the placebo group, on the disability scale.
Giacino says this is very significant. "Restoring, you know, human interaction between family to family, between a patient and a health care team, I think that's a very significant step forward."
Kim has been on the drug for six weeks, John says. "It has kept all of our hopes for her alive."
Those in the study who received Amantadine recovered the ability to answer yes and no questions and consistently follow commands within four weeks, which was faster than participants taking the placebo. Two weeks after treatment stopped, the level of recovery in both groups was about the same.
ABC12 Main Station