Pitt’s Brain Trauma Research Center Receives $6.3M Renewal Grant

Issue Date: 
October 9, 2006


The University of Pittsburgh Brain Trauma Research Center (BTRC) has been awarded a $6.3 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue research into the effects of head injuries on the brain.

BTRC researchers will investigate the factors that often contribute to poor outcomes as well as new treatments that may lead to improved recovery for patients at all levels of brain injury. The five-year grant is an extension of funding to the BTRC, an NIH Center of Excellence originally established here in 1991. The BTRC is housed in the Pitt School of Medicine’s Department of Neurological Surgery.

“Traumatic brain injury is a huge public health problem for which there is no cure,” said BTRC Director Edward Dixon, who is also professor of neurological surgery, anesthesiology, neurobiology, and physical medicine and rehabilitation in Pitt’s medical school. “Since there are so few treatments for brain trauma, our special focus is to translate our research into practical, clinical approaches that can ultimately help the brain-injured patients who are on the road to recovery.”

“This grant truly distinguishes us as one of the leading centers in the world in brain-trauma research and treatment,” said Amin Kassam, interim chair and associate professor in Pitt’s neurological surgery department. “This focused and concerted effort lays the foundation for better understanding of trauma to the central nervous system, enabling us to develop treatment strategies that will make a difference.”

Since establishment of the BTRC in 1991, Pitt researchers have made groundbreaking contributions to the understanding of how head trauma damages the brain and how damage progresses during the first few hours and days following injury. BTRC-led research has resulted in more than 150 peer-reviewed publications in leading scientific journals. In a 1997 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, BTRC investigators reported that moderate cooling of the brain is effective in improving outcomes following severe brain trauma; this finding has led to additional clinical testing by Pitt neurosurgery investigators.

Current BTRC research projects include a comprehensive study of the links between Alzheimer’s disease and brain trauma; investigations of the mechanisms of nerve cell death and dysfunction; an investigation of learning and memory disruption after injury, which may shed light on post-traumatic amnesia and offer strategies to prevent or treat it; and a two-year neurocognitive followup study of severely brain-injured patients who received aggressive treatment for their injuries.

“The awarding of this grant to the BTRC is recognition of the great talent and focus of our research group,” said Steven DeKosky, professor and chair of the University’s Department of Neurology and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Pitt. “Interdisciplinary studies of neuron death and cognitive loss after brain injury, and new studies of the relationship between brain trauma and Alzheimer’s disease, are directed toward improving therapy for people with brain injury. Through such research, care will be improved, which is the ultimate goal of this talented group.”

The BTRC is one of only three NIH-designated head injury centers in the United States. It is closely allied with the Center for Injury Research and Control, Safar Center for Resuscitation Research, Epidemiology Data Center, Benedum Pediatric Trauma Program, Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, and the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinical Trials Network of the National Institute for Medical Rehabilitation Research of the NIH, all of the University of Pittsburgh; and the Pittsburgh NMR Center for Biomedical Research at Carnegie Mellon University.

n the United States, traumatic brain injury is the most common cause of death, disability, and mental impairment in people ages 1 to 45 and affects an estimated 2 million people each year. Because trauma disproportionately affects younger individuals, it accounts for more years of potential life lost than cancer and cardiovascular disease combined.

Each year, 50,000 people suffer severe brain injuries and require long-term care at a cost of more than $20 billion, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Motor vehicle accidents are the most common cause of such injuries.