There is quite a variety of medicines used to treat the human body that come from weird sources. Some of the most infamous stories in all of medicine are the result of mistakes that would normally cause a researcher to worry about their job security, such as the discovery of penicillin. Still, you wouldn’t think that one of the most damaging and addictive drugs in the entire world may be part of a future treatment for limiting post-TBI brain damage.
According to MedCity News, that could be the case thanks to a mistake made almost a decade ago by a PhD student in a University of Montana lab.
The story goes that a researcher assistant working in David Poulsen’s neuroscience research lab was conducting an experiment that involved using high doses of methamphetamine to create brain damage in small animal models. However, somewhere in the process one of the concentrations of meth was accidentally diluted significantly before being given to one group of rats.
When the team returned to examine the brain specimens, they observed that one group of rats was strangely neuroprotected. With further review, they discovered it was the group who had received the diluted dose.
Not one to miss an opportunity, Poulsen’s team immediately began applying for grants and studying how one of the most destructive drugs, especially for the brain, could be so beneficial in low doses.
In fact, this is far from the first time methamphetamines have been used to treat different medical issues, including asthma and narcolepsy during the 1930’s and helping World War II pilots stay awake. Today, it can be found in low doses in the ADHD drug Desonyx.
Dr. James Fonger, a heart surgeon and CEO of the Sinapsis Pharma venture aiming to commercialize the lab’s findings, suggested the reaction is related to dopamine. “At high doses, there are a couple of well-known receptors in the brain which get hit by the drug and cause damage. Underneath that, there’s dopamine receptors that are completely overwhelmed at high doses and have no effect,” he explained. “But if you only mildly stimulate the dopamine receptors, they are very neuroprotective.”