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Department of Defense Awards $35 Million to Support Local Brain Injury Research
Of the more than 1.5 million people who suffer a traumatic brain injury each year in the United States, as many as 75 percent sustain a concussion, a brain injury that is classified as mild yet can lead to long-term or permanent impairments and disabilities. A consortium of physicians and scientists in the Houston region is now undertaking a research initiative to improve diagnosis of mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) and develop innovative treatment strategies.
The Department of Defense Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury Research Program of the Office of Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs recently awarded the Mission Connect Mild TBI Translational Research Consortium a grant totaling approximately $35 million to support the five-year research program. The consortium includes research teams from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB), Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University and the Transitional Learning Center in Galveston. The work will be done within the existing framework of Mission Connect, a consortium established by the TIRR Foundation in 1997 to facilitate collaborative research to improve outcomes for patients with brain and spinal cord injuries and neurological disorders.
"Our goal is to make discoveries that will ultimately allow us to intervene with the most effective early therapy before a mild traumatic brain injury results in a chronic problem," said Alex Valadka, M.D., the consortium's principal investigator, vice chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston and director of neurotrauma services at Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center (TMC). "There is a high prevalence of mild traumatic brain injury in soldiers, and the consortium's work is driven by that. We believe the conclusions of our research also will benefit civilians, including athletes, who have suffered concussions."
The consortium's members will collaborate on basic and clinical research to develop new diagnostic methods, including sophisticated imaging techniques, and evaluate new therapeutic interventions. For clinical trials, the researchers plan to recruit patients with MTBI who are receiving care at Memorial Hermann -TMC, Ben Taub General Hospital and Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. "The award of this grant confirms the collaborative platform of Mission Connect is a powerful and pivotal force in research," said Cynthia Adkins, executive director of TIRR Foundation, under which Mission Connect was founded and is managed. "Uniting these premier scientists in this shared research effort will accelerate the pace of discovery and provide the courageous men and women in our military with the best possible medical care for the brain injuries they have sustained."
Claudia Robertson, M.D., professor of neurosurgery at Baylor College of Medicine and director of The Center for Neurosurgical Intensive Care at Ben Taub General Hospital, is the coprincipal investigator. "This grant is a huge boost to research in traumatic brain injury and will allow investigators to work together through Mission Connect," she said. "For Baylor College of Medicine, it will help fund 10 investigators in neurology, neuroscience, neurosurgery and pain management and physical rehabilitation."
Claire Hulsebosch, Ph.D., professor of neuroscience and cell biology at UTMB, said Mission Connect is unique in that it provides a multi-institutional forum for collaborative research, and not an outdated model of competition among medical researchers.
"Only through collaboration can we make great strides in restoring function for our young, brave men and women in the armed forces," Hulsebosch said. "We in the medical field must serve these men and women by moving the frontiers of treatment faster to provide state-of-the-art interventions now.
James Tour, Ph.D., a chemist at Rice University's Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, said the grant will support his collaborative research of novel drug delivery systems to treat mild traumatic brain injury.
"Oxidative stress is a prominent feature of traumatic brain injury," Tour said. "We have developed a new antioxidant agent based on carbon nanotubes, and in collaboration with Dr. Thomas Kent of the Baylor College of Medicine, we will examine the therapeutic potential of the agent to treat mild TBI."
Garland D. Anderson, M.D., UTMB provost and dean of the School of Medicine, said, "The institutions that make up Mission Connect have a long history of working together successfully. This significant grant is testament to the fact that our collaboration makes us more competitive for funding than any one of our schools would have been alone and, more importantly, it strengthens our ability to improve the lives of those affected by traumatic brain injury."
Matthew Rasband, Ph.D., associate professor of neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine, said that the consortium is a remarkable mix of basic, translational and clinical research. "The award is very forward- thinking since, in addition to clinicians, it includes neuroscientists working to elucidate the very basic and fundamental causes of nervous system injury all the way down at the molecular and cellular level," Rasband said. "Armed with this information and working together in a collaborative environment, clinicians and neuroscientists stand a much better chance of designing new and innovative treatments for traumatic brain injury." In total, 25 researchers are part of the consortium. From the UT Health Science Center at Houston, they include Valadka, Ponnada A. Narayana, Ph.D., Paul R. Swank, Ph.D., Raymond J. Grill, Ph.D., Pramod Dash, Ph.D., and Andrew C. Papanicolaou, Ph.D.
Giuseppe Colasurdo, M.D., dean of the UT Medical School at Houston, said, "Congratulations to Dr. Valadka and the team for receiving this very prestigious and competitive funding, which will improve our knowledge of the complex mechanisms involved in traumatic brain injury. The awarding of this grant validates our national stature in the neurosciences and will improve patient care and clinical outcomes for many patients."
Peter J. Davies, M.D., Ph.D., executive vice president for research at the UT Health Science Center at Houston, said the Department of Defense funding, along with the resources of Mission Connect, will enhance the consortium's clinical and translational research, as well as pre-clinical research.
"Mild traumatic brain injury is a tremendous problem, and there is an outstanding team in place ready to tackle it," Davies said.
By Meredith Raine
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