NFL provides Notre Dame grant to study treatments for Traumatic Brain Injury

Notre Dame, IN

NFL Charities grants Notre Dame's Department of Chemistry and Biology money to design and develop therapeutics for the treatment of Traumatic Brain Injury.

Posted: 4:18 PM Feb 22, 2011
Reporter: Maureen McFadden
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With the death last week of Notre Dame and Chicago Bears Football great, Dave Duerson, the affect of concussions and Traumatic Brain Injuries are again in the forefront.

Concussions are a common concern in sports with more than 300,000 in the United States last year, most involving football players. And it's becoming more and more apparent that a blow to the head can cause significant damage, and even death.

But Maureen McFadden recently met with a Notre Dame Biochemistry and Biology Researcher who is working on a treatment, with a grant from the NFL Charities, that could rescue brain cells before they die, saving people from the serious consequences of brain damage.

It was a skiing lesson that killed actress Natasha Richardson in 2009 when she fell and hit her heat, dying from a Traumatic Brain Injury.

Notre Dame's Dr. Mayland Chang says Richardson, like many people, thought she was okay, saying, "Just learning how to ski, she fell down and she did not apparently take is seriously until it was too late."

Ten years ago this month, Nascar Legend Dale Earnhardt died from a TBI suffered on his last lap of his race at the Daytona 500.

Professional snowboarder Kevin Pearce, who made a miraculous recovery, nearly died from a fall on a half pipe two years ago.

It's a scare University of Notre Dame Researcher, Dr. Mayland Chang, knows well. Her mother died from a Traumatic Brain Injury and her son, who is a competitive snow boarder, took a bad fall last year.

They took him to the hospital where he had a CAT scan which showed no bleeding, but Dr. Change says further testing show his brain had been injured.

"When he saw a sports medicine doctor they went through a series of questions to see how his brain was functioning and, actually now they have a computer test to ascertain what is the damage. He was below average. It was like, 'Tell me ten words that start with Y' and my son could only say two."

Her son sat out the rest of the season, had no PE classes, no jumping, nothing strenuous until sports medicine doctors determined he made a full recovery.

Chang says a stroke causes the same damage.

If a drug called TPA is given within three hours it can prevent damage, but only one-percent of patients is diagnosed in time to use TPA, says Chang.

"When you have a stroke and also when you have a traumatic brain injury, you see also the swelling of the brain of the brain and sometimes bleeding. If you fall really hard and your brain just rattles it can cause damage."

Since football players take hits all the time, NFL Charities has awarded Chang and her team a grant to look for ways to prevent brain damage.

And she says they have made some real progress.

Chang says, surprising to most, that 77-percent of U.S. hospitals don't have neurology departments and by the time patients are transferred to the right hospital, the damage is already done, harming cognitive function.

That's why they are working to come up with an immediate treatment in her Notre Dame lab, explaining their findings.

"So these proteins that are involved we have made inhibitors, you know another word for that would be like a drug. We made drugs that will actually rescue the brain cell from injury."

The compound developed at Notre Dame is being tested in mice through a joint effort with the University of Missouri, and Dr. Chang is optimistic about their find.

"We see the outcome for these animals is much better, as much as 60-percent of the brain cells that will die are rescued."

The next step is clinical trials and Chang says if those also go well, the drug could forever change the way we treat stroke and head injuries. She explains the hope is to use the compound as an injectible, immediately after injury.

"As soon as the paramedic goes through a checklist of whether the person is having a stroke, or not, they will administer this compound immediately and start rescuing brain cells from death. This therapeutic would be available at football fields, for example, so if a football player has a concussion they will administer this."

Perhaps finally having a drug that prevents brain damage, and the heartbreak and pain that comes from stroke or concussions.

Clinical trials in humans will determine if there are issues with toxicity, but Dr. Chang says their study in mice has shown no problems with that, so far.

If the compound then gets F-D-A approval it could be on the market in five to six years.

Dr. Chang stresses if your head takes a hit, or you have a headache that isn't normal, you must go to the hospital because time is truly of the essence when it comes to brain injury and concussion.

And by the way, in the South Bend area, both Memorial and St. Joseph Regional Medical Center are able to deal with head trauma. Both hospitals have Neurology Departments.

To learn more about to Dr. Chang's study you can click here.