May 20, 1996
Media Contact: Nancy Seideman

Contrary to popular belief, the human brain possesses the inherent ability to heal itself after suffering serious injury, according to Emory University neuroscientist Donald G. Stein and his co-authors in a new book, Brain Repair (Oxford University Press). The authors say that recent advances in research, technology and treatment provide hope for half a million people who experience brain damage annually in the United States.

With so much medical progress, why is it an accepted belief that little can be done for brain-injured persons? Traditional treatment approaches and long-standing assumptions about how the brain works play a role, but Stein and his colleagues report that advances have come so quickly over the past few years in so many fields that it has been difficult for basic science results to translate into practical applications. Also, the authors are quite blunt in their assessment that from an economic and social policy perspective it is more convenient for society to limit treatment for brain-injured Americans, even though in the long run costs far exceed what it would take to provide effective care from the beginning.

In the book, the authors share their excitement about the host of innovative research findings that are just now becoming available for testing and eventual clinical trials. The authors present laboratory research that substantiates the theory of neuroplasticity - which refers to the brain cells' ability to regenerate and adapt their function to assume critical roles once performed by damaged tissue.

"Animal studies have proven that nerve cell repair and growth is possible, and that the brain can produce chemicals that contribute to the growth and survival of nerve cells, aid in cell repair, stimulate regeneration, and even direct the neurons' growth to replace damaged connections,"says Stein, Emory vice provost and graduate school dean. The book also discusses controversial experimental treatments for brain injuries, including fetal transplants to treat Parkinson's disease, and implications for people who suffer from strokes and Alzheimer's disease.

Stein views Brain Repair as a book that patients and their families can read and discuss with their physicians, but he also wants to reach researchers in other fields. Stein is convinced that it will take a combination of pharmacological, behavioral and clinical investigators working together to unlock and trigger the brain's ability to repair itself.

The book also covers Stein's own ongoing research on the role of gender and gender-related hormones in determining the outcome of traumatic brain injury. For example, Stein and his co-workers have shown that the female hormone, progesterone, can dramatically reduce brain swelling, a major killer in brain-injured patients. His investigations also show that the timing of surgery (performed when progesterone levels are high or low) can determine the severity of the symptoms that accompany brain damage.

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