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Once-promising brain injury therapy called a ‘failure’

They say that no scientific experiment is a failure, because even when the results are different than expected, we have gained collective knowledge. When an experimental medical treatment turns out to be ineffective, it can be frustrating, for the millions of people who might benefit.

Two new studies, including one funded by the National Institutes of Health, concluded that giving progesterone, a female sex hormone, to people who come to the hospital with a brain injury is not effective. It had been thought that this type of hormone therapy could improve long-term recovery for victims, and even prevent disability.

The NIH study directed trauma centers around the country to enroll victims of moderate to severe traumatic brain injury to accept infusions of the hormone or a placebo. A total of 1,140 patients participated.

The results, according to one of the doctors involved, were “an absolute, complete failure.” He admitted to being disappointed that progesterone did not seem to protect nerves and brain cells after a TBI. Previous research on animals and two small human trials had suggested that the hormone might have been helpful.

Scientists around the world are searching for a safe, effective treatment for TBI that will make the effects of serious brain trauma a thing of the past. Until that cure arrives, the best we can do is hold those negligently responsible for causing brain injury to others financially responsible.