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One antibiotic may help traumatic brain injuries in adults

Research emerged last year that indicates that adults who suffered traumatic brain injuries (TBI) could benefit from taking the antibiotic minocycline after being injured. Researchers at the College of Medicine at Drexel University published their findings in 2017 in the Experimental Neurology journal.

However, even though over 500,000 babies and children are adversely affected by TBIs each year in America, this treatment is not suitable for children. In fact, although minocycline slows down inflammatory responses in adults, when given to newly born rats with TBIs, the treatment had a negative effect on their undeveloped brains.

While this is bad news for kids suffering from brain injuries, it is a ray of hope for adult TBI patients. Until this study was undertaken, there were zero drugs on the market to treat these type of injuries, although certain medical treatments are used to obtain better outcomes for these patients.

Why it doesn't work for kids

Researchers have noted for years that there is great disparity between adults' and children's brains. This is evident in the decision-making processes of both groups, with adolescent brains showing signs of poor impulse control sometimes well into their 20s. But they were unaware of the effects of certain medications on these still-developing brains after the onset of TBIs.

What they found in their study of the newborn rats was indeed discouraging, as minocycline actually aggravated problems with cognitive impairment in the young rats.

One anatomy and neurobiology professor with the College of Medicine noted that "The developing brain is not the same as the fully mature brain. This study suggests that acute interventions . . . may not be a viable strategy . . . for infants and young children."

What works in adults

In adults, minocycline decreases activation of microglia, which are the body's primary immune cells. They are located in both our brains and spinal cords and protect our bodies from foreign pathogens. Microglia are the brain's cleaning crew, sweeping out the debris and dying neurons to give additional areas where functioning neurons can work normally.

Because the studies were done only on mice, it is thus far impossible to state at what threshold the treatment would be safe to administer in children and adolescents.

Grim prognoses can result from TBIs

While it's apparent that there still is much that we don't know about treating TBI patients to get the optimal outcomes for them, many who suffered their brain injuries in accidents have limited recoveries. They may partially recover or even spend their lives in a hazy otherworld of persistent vegatative states.

That's why it's vital to seek treatment as soon as possible after a brain injury, as early intervention can sometimes prevent an injury from worsening or becoming fatal. Treatment can be ongoing for the lifetime of the TBI patient — and thus extremely expensive — making it crucial to pursue financial compensation from those who are liable for the patients' injuries.

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