Don Stein, PhD

Treating Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the leading cause of death and disability in young people and the signature wound of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no truly effective treatment. At least not yet. In an Emory/NIH clinical trial under way in 17 trauma centers nationwide, TBI patients are being given progesterone within four hours after injury.

Produced naturally in the brains of both males and females, this hormone is best known for its vital role during fetal development. Emory neuroscientist Don Stein recognized that processes of fetal development resemble those of tissue repair. Maybe, he thought, quick treatment with high levels of progesterone would reduce the brain swelling, inflammation, and levels of injury-induced toxins that cause most permanent damage following TBI.

His studies in animals, then in a 100-patient clinical trial, proved him right. Those who received progesterone were more likely to survive, with less physical and mental disability. If the current, 1,1140-patient clinical trial proves equally successful, Stein's discovery may revolutionize TBI care.