An OHSU study just published in a medical journal may have uncovered key evidence linking Alzheimer’s disease and traumatic brain injuries and, more importantly, hinted at a way both can be addressed medically according to a recent article in The Oregonian.
According to the newspaper, a scientific paper prepared by OHSU and a university in New York “discovered that a traumatic brain injury fouls up the brain’s waste removal system, causing toxic proteins to build up among the cells. A similar phenomenon exists with Alzheimer’s.” The article goes on to note that if TBI and Alzheimer’s do, indeed, stem from similar chemical causes then there is “hope that scientists will find a drug one day to slow the development of Alzheimer’s or neurodegeneration after a brain injury.”
According to The Oregonian’s account of the study, the breakthrough lies in the discovery of “the brain’s waste removal system.” It continues: “Scientists had long suspected that the brain, which is separated from the body by a protective blood-brain barrier, had a mechanism for flushing out waste. But they did not have a clue about the process.” Now, they do. Another important feature of the study is its identification of the failure of this waste-flushing process as the core cause of both Alzheimer’s and of many traumatic brain injuries – a link between the two conditions that has long been suspected but has been difficult to prove scientifically.
It is important to note that all of this is very preliminary. While the study is exceptionally important it is only a beginning, and any drug to treat both Alzheimer’s and TBI is probably many years away. It does, however, hold out hope over time. More immediately, it confirms yet again the fundamental relationship between traumatic brain injuries and Alzheimer’s – an increasingly clear fact that some in the sports community continue to attempt to explain away.
As a Portland TBI attorney my immediate concern is for people and families struggling with the effects of blows to the head, a group that includes athletes, car crash victims and others. Understanding the human chemistry behind traumatic brain injuries is a key first step in, someday, reversing them. Over the last few years we as a society have made enormous progress in TBI protection and TBI awareness, particularly among athletes at all levels, from children to professionals. We have also, however, seen that rules on and off the field do little good if they are not accompanied by changes in the culture of sports, and an awareness that playing through a head injury is never a good thing for an athlete to do. Perhaps this study will speed not only research on Alzheimer’s and TBI medications but also a change in the sideline culture that too often still encourages players to return to the field at times when they should be seeking medical attention.