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San Antonio researchers developing brain injury treatment

Scientists say the first-of-its-kind drug, developed by UTHSA researchers, could prevent long-term ailments associated with concussions and strokes.

SAN ANTONIO — Research that began in San Antonio could soon produce a first-of-its-kind treatment for traumatic brain injuries, like concussions and strokes. 

There are few medicinal treatments for brain injuries. Doctors often instruct concussed football players, for example, to sit in dark rooms and limit exercise. 

The drug, which scientists hope to eventually administer as a pill, stimulates support cells responsible for cleaning up messes in the brain. These "astrocytes" are responsible for maintaining the environment in which nerve cells operate. 

"We found a mechanism with which you could increase the energy production of an astrocyte," said Dr. Jim Lechleiter, professor of cell systems and anatomy at UT Health Science Center San Antonio, who patented the idea. 

"Essentially, we could supercharge their batteries so whatever they need to do... they could actually do more of it," he continued. "When we triggered this pathway, cells lived longer under stress." 

Tests in animals have so far produced promising results. Mice and Monkeys who took the drug intravenously recovered more quickly from brain injuries and were less likely to suffer long-term consequences. 

The Medical Technology Enterprise Consortium (MTEC) recently awarded Astrocyte Pharmaceuticals $3 million to conduct clinical trials using the drug in people. 

UT Health Science Center San Antonio owns a portion of the pharmaceutical company that was founded on Lechleiter's patent. 

"Supercharging that (astrocyte) battery - giving them a full shot of espresso allows them to cope with that really challenging time that the brain goes through during trauma," Astrocyte Pharmaceuticals CEO William Korinek said. 

The medicine is designed for stroke victims and people with brain injuries like concussions, but it could eventually be used to treat neurological disorders like Alzheimer's and ALS. 

There are some indications it could also treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and hearing loss, as well. 

Researchers at Astrocyte are now preparing to test the medicine for safety in humans by administering incrementally larger doses over time. If there are no issues, as expected, clinical trials will begin in brain injury patients sometime in 2023.

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