Depression, cancer drugs may help treat those with brain injuries

By Isaac Heller • Published: July 3rd, 2017
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Brain damage that occurs after a traumatic brain injury, or TBI, may one day be reduced when treated with a drug prescribed for cancer and another drug that treats depression and bipolar disorder, according to research published in Scientific Reports.

Lithium is used to manage depression and bipolar disorder. Rapamycin [wrap-a-mice-in] is used to treat some forms of cancer. Now Rutgers University researchers say the two together can prevent the toxicity caused by glutamate in cell cultures.

The body naturally produces glutamate, a chemical that helps with learning and memory but can cause brain cells to die after a powerful impact to the head. The researchers found that lithium and rapamycin can stop overproduction of the substance, and that could help protect brain cells in the aftermath of a brain injury.

The hope? That one day, drugs might manage brain cell death. For now, most medications used to help TBI patients focus on stopping pain.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1.7 million people in the U.S. suffer from a traumatic brain injury annually and around 30 percent of injury-related deaths are caused by TBI. The most vulnerable groups of people are children and the elderly. Symptoms caused by TBI include impaired memory, depression, and vision and hearing problems. Concussions are among the most common TBI.

Researchers said more studies need to be done in animals and humans to see if these drugs could help prevent brain damage and nerve cell death in people after a traumatic brain injury.

In the meantime, if you or a loved one experience trauma to the head, even if it seems minor, seek immediate medical attention.