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The study didn't include those with penetrating head injuries, like the gunshot wound former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords suffered, but Giacino said the drug should have similar effects in those patients. Whether it would work in patients with brain injuries not caused by trauma, such as a stroke, isn't known.
Whyte said the researchers want to test the drug for longer periods.
Dr. Ramon Diaz-Arrastia said the results were welcome news in a field that has seen many failed efforts. He is director of clinical research at the government's Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine, which works with the military and government scientists on brain injury research.
"It's an important step toward developing better therapies," he said.
Since amantadine is so commonly used, he said U.S. troops with severe brain injuries in Iraq or Afghanistan probably get it, or should get it now. Since 2000, some 233,000 troops have suffered traumatic brain injuries, including about 6,100 serious cases, many of them from bomb blasts or shrapnel.
Laura Bacon said amantadine seems to be helping her brother recover from a car accident in Vermont last October. Nicholas Gnazzo, 47, of Rochester, N.H., was in a coma for weeks before he was taken for rehabilitation to Spaulding, where doctors put him on amantadine in January.
Since then he has been more alert, able to communicate with nods or gestures -- like pointing to his eyes when he wants his glasses, his sister said. Giacino agreed her brother has gotten better, but whether it is because of the drug can't be determined. Gnazzo wasn't part of the study.
"It's been four months now, and we know we still have a long way to go," Bacon said. "Anything that could be faster -- or feel faster to us -- is a positive."
Military TBI website: http://www.dvbic.org/
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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