TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Jake was talking to his dad, but as his dad would later tell him, he wasn’t making any sense. He was in Gainesville at his brother’s apartment; his dad an hour away. Another phone call later and one of dad’s old Marine Corp buddies was on his way to check-in on his friend’s son. When Jake didn’t answer the door, the Marine did what Marines do: he kicked down the door.
Jake was on the floor, unresponsive. The Marine scooped him up and took him to the emergency room. The ER doctors would later tell the family Jake had three blood clots in his brain, and if he hadn’t gotten back to the hospital, Jake would have been dead in about two hours.
Jake’s severe brain trauma was a result of an incident from the night before when he was attacked by a homeless man. The vagrant threw a blind-side punch, Jake hit his head on the pavement, ended up in a different ER, but was told by a doctor he just needed some rest and would be fine in the morning.
The 1995 attack would play an important role in his life. Jake VanLandingham would eventually become Dr. Jake VanLandingham. His education would take him through Valdosta State, FSU, and FAMU. With a degree in physical therapy, early in his career Jake treated brain injured kids at the Dick Howser Center for Childhood Services in Tallahassee. More schooling led to a Ph.D. in neuroscience.
Today Dr. VanLandingham is an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Florida State University. He is also the founder and president of Prevacus, a biopharmaceutical company spun-off from research at FSU’s College of Medecine. Prevacus has one drug, PRV-022, also known as Prevasol, a neurosteroid that has been specifically developed for the immediate treatment for anyone suffering from a concussion.
“This is an opportunity to try to solve the problem at multiple levels,” Dr. VanLandingham told News 6.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans are treated for almost three-million traumatic brain injuries – or TBIs – each year. Of these, mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBIs) - what most people know as a concussion - are the most common.
“The drug works through what we call gene-amplification. It easily goes through the nose up into the brain,” said VanLandingham. “It’s there within five minutes and it stimulates different components of your DNA.”
A concussion occurs when the brain swells after hard contact with the inside of the skull. The result - a host of temporary or sometimes long-term problems including headaches, memory loss, disorientation, and even light sensitivity.
“Some people say you have to lose consciousness, you don’t have to lose consciousness to have a concussion,” said Dr. Linda Papa, Director of Clinical Research at Orlando Regional Medical Center. “You just have to feel dazed or feel like something is not quite right, confused, seeing stars.”
According to Dr. VanLandingham, Prevasol works as a kind of drug cocktail, essentially three medications in one. When administered immediately after a suspected concussion, Prevasol reduces inflammation of the brain with an anti-inflammatory, takes water or fluid off of the brain to reduce swelling, and minimizes a person’s stress because cells are lacking blood and “challenged for energy”.
And because it’s a nasal spray, “You’re pushing more of the drug to the brain by giving it nasally,” VanLandingham said.
In 2015, the movie Concussion, starring Will Smith, chronicled the discovery by a young Nigerian doctor that repetitive concussions can lead to CTE - Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a progressively degenerative disease that leads to memory loss, depression, and progressive dementia.
And just last summer, results from a groundbreaking three-year study found that 110 of 111 deceased NFL players’ who donated their brains for scientific research, showed signs of CTE. The hope is, that by treating even mild concussions, more instances of CTE can be avoided.
“I think the more research we have, the better it is, because through research we find new treatments,” said Papa. “Anything that we can offer patients to make them better I think is fantastic.”
“To me it changes the dynamic of our ability to say hey at least Prevacus brought us something here,” said VanLandingham. “If my kid does get a little head injury or a concussion, I’m going to have something to get it better.”
Prevasol went through animal toxicology testing last summer and should start its human clinical trials this summer. If those trials are successful and the drug is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Prevasol could be on the market in three to four years.
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