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Brain injury therapy doesn't pan out

People who suffered severe brain injuries in auto accidents, falls, sports injuries and other trauma were disappointed by the news a few days back that a possible treatment doesn't do what experts had hoped. The military had high hopes for citicoline, a naturally-occurring chemical that helps build brain cells. Tests in laboratory animals suggested it would speed recovery, and a few human trials with stroke patients showed mixed results. More thorough tests on 1,213 patients showed no improvement in reducing forgetfulness, improving concentration, or lengthening attention span.

Citicoline is a dietary supplement sold over the counter and touted as a memory booster. Citicoline is derived from choline, a chemical necessary for brain cells. It's found naturally in some foods, and a Spanish pharmaceutical company makes prescription-grade citicoline. In the clinical study, half of the patients got a 2,000 milligram mega-dose within 24 hours of injury, and the others got a placebo. The patients took either the supplement or the placebo for six months. Most of the patients saw improvement in memory, learning and other mental functions, but the progress in the placebo group was the same as those who received citicoline. Doctors chalked it up to the normal healing process.

The U.S. military is desperate for a better way to heal the estimated 250,000 war-related head injuries sustained since 2000. More than 1 million civilians suffer brain injuries each year and 53,000 die. Caring for and rehabilitating patients is enormously expensive and takes many years. There are no known treatments to repair or reactivate damaged brain tissues. Doctors will now turn their attention to a combination of drugs, possibly including citicoline, to see if they can find the magic mix.

Source: The Associated Press, "Big disappointment in brain injury treatment study," Lindsay Tanner, Nov. 20, 2012

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