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3 New Promising Treatments for Traumatic Brain Injuries

Doctor looking at brain scan images


When it comes to traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), they can be as unique as the person they are affecting. For some, a mild TBI, sometimes called a concussion, will resolve with a day or so of rest and over-the-counter pain relievers, but other times symptoms — mental and physical — can linger for months or years. Anxiety, insomnia, and headaches can be especially persistent and sometimes difficult to resolve.

Researchers are learning increasingly more about brain injuries – the mild and the more severe – and how best to treat them. New therapies now utilize novel discoveries in psychoactive drugs, low-dose radiation, and brain implants to treat TBI patients. This is especially encouraging news for cyclists who have developed long-term TBI symptoms after a crash and have few to zero options in relieving their physical and, especially, mental pain. 

In moderate cases of TBI, a person might experience the same mild symptoms such as headache, fatigue, mood changes, and dizziness as well as:

  • Loss of consciousness for several minutes or hours or coma
  • Loss of coordination 
  • Profound confusion
  • Slurred speech 
  • Dilated pupils

“The terms ‘mild,’ ‘moderate’ and ‘severe’ are used to describe the effect of the injury on brain function,” the Mayo Clinic explains. “A mild injury to the brain is still a serious injury that requires prompt attention and an accurate diagnosis.”

This is why it’s important to seek the appropriate care after an accident and then call Bay Area Bicycle Law for a free consultation. Proper compensation can help cover the cost for needed care, even when that injury may be classified as “mild.”

For TBI patients, recent discoveries in treatment bring hope that new therapies could hold the key for alleviating persistent symptoms. 

Therapy through low-dose radiation

Researchers in Hong Kong most recently found that low-dose ionizing radiation (LDIR), such as X-ray irradiation, reverse motor deficits and lessen lesion sizes in TBI cases and ischemic stroke mice. The scientists say this could be a promising therapeutic strategy in the future. 

 “Usually, secondary brain damage worsens over time after primary injuries in TBI (mechanical insults such as a car accident or falls by older adults) and strokes (when blood flow to the brain is blocked), owing to the unfavorable and hostile neuroinflammatory environment in the brain,” explains Eddie Ma Chi-him, professor of neuroscience at CityU, who led the research. “But there is still no effective treatment for repairing the central nervous system after brain injury.”

In the lab, one group of animal models were treated with whole-body X-ray irradiation after a cortical stab wound injury or photothrombotic ischemic stroke. The other group was not given treatment. One week after the injury, the X-ray-irradiated mice showed a reduction in lesion size by just less than 50%, according to the researchers. 

The researchers also found that the mice that received X-ray irradiation experienced “accelerated substantial motor function recovery.” They determined this by observing the mice’s physical activity and their ability to walk, climb a pole, and grip after the injury.  

“Further analyses revealed a remarkable brain rewiring in the motor cortex and recovery of EEG activity two months after ischemic stroke,” the researchers concluded. “We therefore propose the use of LD X-ray irradiation as a potential effective therapeutic option for TBI and ischemic stroke.”

Making waves with psychoactive drugs

TBIs can have significant effects on mental health. Anxiety, depression, and other behavioral issues can arise after a brain injury. Now, researchers are looking to psychoactive drugs as legitimate aids in helping improve those symptoms. 

Researchers at Stanford announced this year that they’ve found that ibogaine, a plant-based psychoactive compound found in the roots of the African shrub iboga, “safely led to improvements in depression, anxiety, and functioning among veterans with traumatic brain injuries.”

“No other drug has ever been able to alleviate the functional and neuropsychiatric symptoms of traumatic brain injury,” says Nolan Williams, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. “The results are dramatic, and we intend to study this compound further.”

While more research is needed on this front, and policy changes may have to follow to make such a treatment widely available, it’s an encouraging discovery for people who struggle with mental symptoms from a TBI. 

Brain implants could deliver personalized treatment

Stanford neuro researchers have also been honing a new technique that uses deep brain stimulation they say is tailored to each patient. A brain implant works to treat the cognitive impairments from moderate to severe traumatic brain injury.

 In 2018, physicians surgically implanted a device deep inside Gina Arata’s brain. Arata sustained a brain injury in 2001 during a car accident and said she had several lasting symptoms, ranging from memory problems and having trouble regulating emotions to balance issues. 

The device’s electrical activity stimulates the networks the injury subdues, researchers say. When the device is turned on, Arata’s symptoms are drastically different. 

“Since the implant I haven’t had any speeding tickets,” Arata tells the researchers. “I don’t trip anymore. I can remember how much money is in my bank account. I wasn’t able to read, but after the implant I bought a book, Where the Crawdads Sing, and loved it and remembered it. And I don’t have that quick temper.”

Like Arata, cyclists involved in accidents can sustain similar injuries and lasting symptoms. But this new technology could have the ability to change that. 

In 2023, researchers conducted a study of five participants, aged 22 to 60, with the device, finding that participants had improved their performance on a test that assesses the participant’s ability to connect a jumble of letters and numbers. On average, the participants improved speed by 32%. 

“This is a pioneering moment,” says Nicholas Schiff, MD, a professor at Weill Cornell Medicine and co-senior author of the study. “Our goal now is to try to take the systematic steps to make this a therapy. This is enough of a signal for us to make every effort.”