A Rockville company is conducting clinical trials on a drug it hopes could treat both depression and traumatic brain injuries in athletes.
The drug, developed by Neuralstem Inc., appears to rebuild a region of the brain that seems to atrophy in patients with major depression, according to a news release from the company.
Researchers believe the drug also might treat symptoms of traumatic brain injuries like those suffered by some professional football players who frequently take violent tackles and falls. Neuralstem is working with the National Football League Alumni Association to develop a clinical trial to treat ex-NFL players with symptoms of traumatic brain injuries.
“These injuries can result in long-term and serious loss of cognitive function, depression, a shorter life span and, sadly, death by suicide in some cases,” Richard Garr, president and CEO of Neuralstem, said in a statement.
During the past few years, the suicides of several ex-NFL players have drawn attention to depression as a possible symptom of traumatic brain injuries. A year ago, former NFL linebacker Junior Seau was found dead in his home of an apparent suicide.
After his death, scientists determined that he suffered from chronic brain damage. His family sued the NFL, The Washington Post reported, saying that he committed suicide because of brain disease caused by violent hits during football games.
Some research suggests that a region of the brain called the hippocampus might shrink in patients suffering from depression and in people with traumatic brain injuries, according to the news release. Based on tests in mice, researchers think the drug, named NSI-189, works by regrowing neurons and rebuilding the hippocampus.
Neuralstem researchers also think the drug might be able to help treat Alzheimer’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder, but they have not yet done any trials to test that theory.