FDA-approved cancer drug shows promise in helping concussions

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – A drug already FDA approved to treat certain cancers shows promising research to help reduce memory loss and concussions.

That research is being done at University of Utah Health. Researchers believe this could transform how we treat traumatic brain injuries in the future.

Concussions can happen anywhere on the field, the battleground, and in a car crash. What if there was an option for a faster recovery for those with traumatic brain injuries?

Donna Cross, Ph.D., Research Associate Professor in Radiology and Imaging Sciences at U of U Health and lead author in this study, believes it’s possible.

The FDA-approved chemotherapy drug, paclitaxel, is used to treat many cancers including breast cancer. When mice with mild TBI were given the drug, results were stunning.

“The mice that got the drug were completely normal they looked like mice that had not been injured at all,” said Dr. Cross.

Researchers looked at brain imaging and function and found the micro-bleeds disappeared and memory tests all came back normal.

Dr. Christopher Gee, Associate Professor in the Orthopedics Dept. At U of U Health, works with the Salt Lake City Stars, the D League of the Utah Jazz and the U.S. speed skating team.

“I see in my practice a fair number of sports concussions. Concussion is very difficult. There’s not an easy way to treat it and a lot of the research is focused on recognition and so when we get something around therapeutic like medication, it’s very exciting,” said Gee.

Dr. Cross believes the drug could help humans heal faster from a concussion and even protect the brain in future head injuries.

Paclitaxel in high doses can prevent cancer from growing, but in small doses, researchers say it can stabilize the affected brain cells.

“When there is an injury and you get hit on the head all the cells in your brain are affected. This drug will affect all of those cells by gently preventing the instability for a while and allows the brain to heal,” said Dr. Cross.

Dr. Cross says with further research the drug has the potential to help veterans, athletes and perhaps people with dementia.

“It’s why I’m here. It’s why I come to work every day.”

“To be able to have some medication to say this will increase your recovery and get you back sooner would be life-changing for a lot of patients,” said Dr. Gee.

Dr. Cross and her team at the U is working closely with a team at the University of Washington. They are ready for the next phase which would be human clinical trials. 

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