A recent study by researchers at the University of Montana has revealed that methamphetamine, when administered in rats and gerbils after a stroke, protects neurons upto 80-90%. It was used initially to aggravate stroke symptoms and study its toxicity on the lungs. The result was surprising and was repeated in further attempts.
The research was done on thin slices of rat hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for learning functions. They were kept in culture for nine days. The next step was to produce conditions similar to a stroke, achieved by keeping them oxygen deprived for one and a half hours. The damage could be seen by using a special dye.
Low doses of methamphetamine were administered and the team could see that the treated slices showed less damage compared to the untreated ones. Dave Poulsen, an assistant researcher at UM, said in a news release that though they are not sure how it happens, the drug definitely does protect the neurons. However higher doses increase the symptoms.
The team also discovered that the drug was effective upto 16 hours after a stroke unlike the usually used one, which had to be used within 3 hours after a stroke.
The study was done on live gerbils as well. Some of the ones that suffered a stroke were treated with a low dose of methamphetamine. Later, dissection revealed that their neurons showed hardly any difference from the normal gerbils', unlike the untreated ones where great damage could be seen.
A lot more work has to be done before the findings are confirmed, but the drug may be used some day in humans, feels Poulsen. He is to present the report in Atlanta during the Society of Neuroscience conference (Oct14-18).