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EDITIONS
 Sunday, 19 January, 2003, 00:14 GMT
Genes 'influence brain injury recovery'
Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis
Some boxers could suffer more from head injuries
Head injuries - including those suffered in contact sports such as boxing or football - could be worse for some people because of their genes.

Scottish researchers are investigating the role of a protein in the brain called Apoe-4.

This protein has already been linked to a higher risk of developing dementia, as well as poorer recovery from head injury.

Around a third of the population carries this variation of the protein, but around 80% of people with Alzheimer's disease have the variant.

This research has implications for doctors treating patients with brain injury, stroke or dementia

Dr Karen Horsburgh
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh are beginning a five-year study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, will investigate why people with the genetic mutation are more vulnerable to the effects of brain injury and diseases.

The team, who have been awarded 350,000 for their research, will look at the role Apoe-4 plays in nerve repair and regeneration after injury.

Recovery

Around 100,000 people are admitted to hospital each year in the UK with a head injury.

There are currently 100,000 survivors of head injuries who have persistent handicaps, many of them young people.

A head injury is also a major risk factor for Alzheimer's disease.

Dr Karen Horsburgh of the Centre for Neuroscience Research, who is leading the research, said: "What we are looking at is trying to understand why having Apoe-4 reduces the chance of a good recovery from a brain injury."

The researchers will look at changing levels of the protein, or changing it to another form which does not carry this higher risk."

Brain cells slowly deteriorate and die as part of normal ageing but this process is accelerated in Alzheimer's disease and also as a result of a brain injury such as stroke or head injury.

"Those with Apoe-4 have a greater risk than normal of developing dementia.

"We also believe that young people carrying Apoe-4 will make a worse recovery from head injury, perhaps because of a reduced capacity for brain repair.

"This research therefore has implications for doctors treating patients with brain injury, stroke or dementia and strategies for patient care."

Dr Horsburgh was cautious about the idea of genetic testing to see who had the protein and was at risk of a worse recovery from head injury.

But she said: "There has to be a certain level of awareness."

'Lifetime of care'

A spokesman for head injury charity Headway said: "We welcome any research which improves our understanding of the brain and the risk factors which increase the chance of long term problems following a head injury.

"A head injury is the foremost cause of death and disability in young people today .

"It does not generally effect life expectancy but can have a devastating effect on the whole of the rest of that young person's life.

"It is not an injury like a broken leg that can be 'fixed' by a period in hospital and some physiotherapy. It affects young people in the prime of life who may need a lifetime of special care."

See also:

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