MISSOULA, Mont. -

A University of Montana researcher thinks he might be on to a big breakthrough when it comes to brain injuries and strokes. He's studying methamphetamine and how it affects healing in the brain.

Dave Poulsen, a research assistant professor hasn't been spending much time in the lab recently, but that changed when his research partner stumbled onto something big.

Poulsen says "We intended to start out to look at the neurotoxic effects or potential damaging effects of methamphetamine particularly as it related to stroke."

What they found shocked them. A small dose of methamphetamine can treat and even reverse damage from brain injuries. The research even shows low doses can help prevent brain damage from strokes.

Now he's getting some help from the U.S. Government. The Department of Defense gave the UM researcher $1.5 million to study the effects of low doses of methamphetamine when treating traumatic brain injuries. Poulsen says the money will be used to help find the optimal dose and determine how long after injury treatment would still be effective.

Right now a person has to get to a hospital within three or four hours to take a drug that breaks up blood clots that cause strokes, but after that there isn't much a doctor can do. If that drug is taken too late, it can cause more harm than good. Plus it doesn't do anything to stop the wave of damage that is associated with strokes. There's nothing professionals can do for someone who suffers a severe brain injury. But Poulsen thinks controled methamphetamine doses could change that. If his research is right, the low-dose meth could reverse some damage done by those who have received a traumatic brain injury.

Poulsen says military planners are looking for a drug that can negate the effects of energy blasts from explosions for soldiers in the field. For many of them medical treatment is hours away. Poulsen says "Having something in the field that a paramedic could deliver would hugely improve the outcome, potentially improve the outcome of people after a traumatic brain injury or a stroke. This could have just as great an impact in a battlefield setting."

He likes what he sees so far from test results on lab animals. He's studied animals with brain injuries versus those without. And says "In those animals that received a severe brain injury but received the methamphetamine treatment, within two to three weeks of the injury, you really couldn't differentiate those animals from the ones who had never received an injury."

This groundbreaking research will next be tried in hospitals. Human trials could give some patients new hope when they once would have a long road of recovery in front of them, if any recovery at all.