SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Imagine popping a pill after a head injury to prevent brain damage. That revolutionary medical discovery may have been made in San Antonio.
The news comes at a time the NFL is being sued by former players who say they are still suffering from head injuries.
Concussions can not only be deadly, but a person can suffer long term effects like memory loss, blindness and chronic headaches.
But a doctor and professor at UT Health Science Center has discovered a key to preventing that kind of brain damage.
UT Health Science Center professor Dr. James Lechleiter knows how a concussion can lead to long term devastating effects, especially if not treated.
"Some of the most dangerous injuries are where you shake it off and sort of tough it out on football field," said Dr. Lechleiter.
A blow to the head in football could turn out to be pricey in court. Tuesday, a federal judge denied preliminary approval of a $765 million settlement of NFL concussion claims, on the basis the money is insufficient to cover 20,000 retired players.
But Lechleiter has discovered new hope for athletes, injured soldiers and other victims of head trauma.
He received a patent for a possible new drug to actually prevent brain damage immediately after a concussion.
"It works very well for trauma," he said.
He discovered that a class of compounds that stimulate brain cell's called astrocytes can protect the brain from suffering long term effects.
He believes the compounds can be modified into a drug for humans that can be taken right after a knock to the head.
"Our data suggests if we can treat that initial injury within a few hours, maybe 30 minutes, we can prevent long term development of these diseases," said Dr. Lechleiter.
Diseases and mental loss for which the NFL may now have to fork out millions to thousands of ex-players who say the NFL knew about the dangers of on-field head injuries but did not do enough to help them.
The next step is phase one clinical trials to make sure the compound doesn't have toxic side effects. Dr. Lechleiter hopes that a drug will hit the market within the next 5 years.