JCU scientists develop new drug to treat head trauma


JCU scientists are developing a new drug to treat trauma on city streets and in the battlefield.  They are working with the U.S. Military to develop the first drug to treat traumatic brain injury (TBI).

by Caitlin Dobson

Head of Trauma and Research at James Cook University Professor Geoffrey Dobson and Senior Research Associate, Hayley Letson are developing the life-saving ALM (Adenosine, Lidocane, Magnesium) drug therapy.

ALM is a new drug therapy that can treat traumatic brain injury sustained by soldiers on the battlefield to one-punch victims in civilian pre-hospital settings.


Dr Geoffrey Dobson with his Research Associate Hayley Letson


Dr Dobson says “Traumatic brain injury is a huge issue with no current drugs that are effective.”

He says if administered early ALM reduces the secondary effects of TBI by: preventing the inflammation radiation of the primary injury, improving brain function and aiding patient recovery.

When primary traumatic brain injury occurs through a punch, knock, bullet or piece of shrapnel, the protective blood brain barrier which normally acts like a “firewall” for the brain becomes compromised.

“The primary injury radiates out through the brain like a pebble dropping into a pond of water” causing “the body to attack itself,” he says.

Dr Dobson says ALM has the ability to save countless lives by reducing the “secondary [TBI] assault” although “it is all about treating the patient early.”

The World Health Organization estimates by the year 2020, TBI will surpass many diseases as the major cause of death and disability.

Senior Research Associate Hayley Letson says statistics reported by the U.S. Military show that almost two-thirds of soldiers who suffered from a mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) were diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

If  MTBI is not diagnosed and treated early, PTSD and other neurological disorders like early onset dementia can develop.

“This is the first time we have been able to show that it [the ALM drug therapy] is protective of the brain,” Letson says.

Letson says primary radiation causes secondary effects such as “heart complications, lung complications and a massive inflammatory response throughout the whole body. Therefore, it is not just the brain that is sick it can be the whole body as well.”

ALM drug therapy would be ideal in remote areas, she says.

“Particularly in a place like Queensland we have a lot of people living in rural and remote areas. There are a lot of agricultural accidents that occur, work accidents and also road accidents and a lot of traumas.

“There is a lot in the media about the one-punch victims in the last few years and this [ALM drug therapy] would be something that could be given straight away, at the point of injury. Whether that is by an ambulance or by a CareFlight aeromedical retrieval service to protect the brain really early on after that injury.”

The researchers say ALM drug therapy will be used in human trials soon but animal studies need to be conducted first.