Michael Schumacher: Miracle treatment gives ‘full recovery’ hope for brain injury patients
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On December 29, 2013, Schumacher’s life was turned upside down when he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a skiing accident on the French Alps during a holiday with his then 14-year-old son Mick. He was placed into a medically induced coma for six months, until June 2014, when he finally left the hospital in Grenoble, before being relocated to his home in Switzerland, where he continues to receive private medical treatment, costing an estimated £124,000-a-week. Updates on his health remain guarded by his close family, but Italian publication ‘Contro Copertina’ reports that Schumacher will undergo stem cell surgery by leading French professor Dr Philippe Menasche, with French newspaper Le Dauphine adding the operation could take place “in the next few days”.
Dr Menasche pioneered the technique of grafting stem cells onto a damaged heart and Schumacher is believed to be having damaged cells replaced with healthy ones that have been harvested from bone marrow or blood after suffering from being bed-ridden for so long with his muscles atrophying and osteoporosis setting in.
Meanwhile, scientists at Aston University are also offering hope for cases like Schumacher’s, which affect up to 75 million victims each year, through a new breakthrough technology known as central nervous system (CNS) edema.
A press release last month read: “The high-profile example of Formula 1 racing driver Michael Schumacher demonstrates the difficulties physicians currently face in treating such injuries.
“After falling and hitting his head on a rock while skiing in Switzerland in 2013, Schumacher developed a swelling on his brain from water rushing into the affected cells.
“He spent six months in a medically-induced coma and underwent complex surgery, but his rehabilitation continues to this day.”
The new treatment uses an already-licensed anti-psychotic medicine known as trifluoperazine (TFP) to alter the behaviour of tiny water channel “pores” in cells known as aquaporins.
The treatment works by counteracting the cells’ normal reaction to a loss of oxygen in the brain and spinal cord caused by trauma.
Under such conditions, cells quickly become “saltier” because of a build-up of ions, causing a rush of water through the aquaporins, making the cells swell and exert pressure on the skull and spine.
This build-up of pressure damages fragile brain and spinal cord tissues, disrupting the flow of electrical signals from the brain to the body, but scientists discovered the miracle drug can stop this from happening.
Testing the treatment on injured rats, researchers found those animals given a single dose of the drug at the trauma site recovered full movement and sensitivity in as little as two weeks, compared to an untreated group that continued to show motor and sensory impairment beyond six weeks after the injury.
Professor Roslyn Bill of the Biosciences Research Group at Aston University said: “Every year, millions of people of all ages suffer brain and spinal injuries, whether from falls, accidents, road traffic collisions, sports injuries or stroke.
“To date, their treatment options have been very limited and, in many cases, very risky.
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“This discovery, based on a new understanding of how our cells work at the molecular level, gives injury victims and their doctors hope.
“By using a drug already licensed for human use, we have shown how it is possible to stop the swelling and pressure build-up in the CNS that is responsible for long-term harm.
“While further research will help us to refine our understanding, the exciting thing is that doctors could soon have an effective, non-invasive way of helping brain and spinal cord injury patients at their disposal.”
Although TFP is already licensed for use in humans by the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), researchers stressed that further work is needed to develop a new, even better drug based on their new understanding of its properties.
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