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From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Allegheny General Hospital plans to enroll up to 15 patients in a study to investigate a promising treatment for traumatic brain injuries like the one Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords suffered.

AGH announced this month that investigators from its Neurosciences Institute joined about 100 medical centers worldwide to test whether the hormone progesterone helps decrease brain swelling in patients.

Progesterone is found naturally in men and women, but women secrete more because it is involved in the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. It could explain why Giffords has shown such remarkable progress in her recovery.

"It's long been known that women who have head injuries have better outcomes than men, and the only real explanation are the hormonal differences," said Dr. Jack Wilberger, chairman of the neurosurgery department at AGH.

The study could result in the first-ever Food and Drug Administration-approved medical treatment for severe traumatic brain injury, Wilberger said. Previous trials were disappointing.

"This is the first study in eight years or so because results were so discouraging," Wilberger said.

Researchers believe they know why progesterone is so critical, Wilberger said.

"When progesterone receptors in the brain are activated, they protect the cell membrane, the covering of the cell that keeps it intact," he said. "The swelling develops when that cover breaks down and allows fluid to leak.

"So the hope is that this will protect the cells by shoring up the covering of the membrane of the cell." The study also will examine whether the hormone is more effective if given within eight hours of injury.

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