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Colorado Researchers Close To Concussion Treatment

AURORA, Colo (CBS4) - The death of an Ohio State football player may be the latest tragedy associated with concussions. Kosta Karageorge was found dead on Sunday.

Police believe he killed himself. The former wrestler and walk-on football player for the Buckeyes complained of suffering due to concussions before his death. The Franklin County, Ohio, coroner's office said it will examine the player's brain for damage as part of the autopsy.

More than a million Americans have a traumatic brain injury every year. Right now, doctors have little recourse when treating these injuries. The standard of care is rest and "activity to tolerance," which means a patient can be active until symptoms occur.

Researchers at the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy hope to change all that. Dr. Kim Heidenreich heads up a team that's working on re-purposing an asthma drug to curb the injury associated with a brain injury.

"This approach targets a very early step in the injury process," Heidenreich told CBS4.

Research shows that there are at least three phases of injury during a concussion. When the head is hit, there can be nerve damage, bruising and even blood clots.

"The primary injury itself set in motion the secondary injury pathways... hours to days after the original trauma," Heidenreich explained.

Secondary injury can include reduced blood flow, further nerve damage and inflammation that can lead to long-term changes in emotions and behavior.

"Since there's the delay between primary injury and secondary injury, we believe there is a therapeutic window of opportunity," Heidenreich said.

She believes that an off-patent drug that reduces inflammation in asthma patients can do the same in brain injury patients. Her testing shows that when administered shortly after a head injury, the drug reduces inflammation and stops some of the secondary symptoms from developing.

"It's a novel approach. Most of the past studies have been focused on preventing neuro-cell death and cell death occurs much later," Heidenreich explained.

It's an approach that Alyssa Blood is excited about. Blood is a research assistant working on the project. She's also suffered four concussions, the last of which made her sick for two and a half years.

"I had horrible headaches. I didn't even know how bad my headaches were until I got better because they were constant," Blood told CBS4.

She reported being sensitive to light, had trouble focusing in class and feared she would never get better. Her injuries inspired her to become a doctor.

"I was an art history major, and had no ambitions to ever do anything (in the sciences) or medicine," Blood said.

Now she's working on a team that may be developing one of the first treatments for concussions. Heidenreich has finished preliminary testing on the drug. Now she's looking to partner with a pharmaceutical company to bring the drug to market. She envisions a day when EMTs and sideline medics could carry this drug for early intervention in concussion cases.

-- Written by by Special Projects Producer Libby Smith

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