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Funded Projects

Along with the generous support of donors, the Brain Injury Association of America is committed to finding cures for brain injury.

2024 Awards

“Physical Activity and BDNF in Neurobehavioral Recovery from Pediatric TBI”
Seed Grant of $25,000
Grantee: Bailey Petersen, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
Mentor: Amery Treble-Barna, Ph.D.

There is a critical need for therapies to promote neurobehavior in children with moderate-to-severe traumatic brain injury (msTBI). In adults, physical activity (PA) improves neurobehavior, in part by increasing expression of a biomarker of TBI recovery, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Using wearable sensors to measure PA, we aim to (1) characterize PA in the first six months after TBI and (2) identify aspects of PA associated with neurobehavior. This study will advance the field of pediatric TBI by providing a clear understanding of the therapeutic potential of PA after TBI.

“Pre-injury Sleep Quality as a Risk Factor for Increased Alcohol Consumption following TBI”
Seed Grant of $25,000
Grantee: Rachel Rowe, Ph.D., University of Colorado-Boulder

While research has investigated the effects of TBI on alcohol use, no study has considered pre-injury sleep quality as a risk factor for increased alcohol consumption post-TBI. We will investigate if sleep fragmentation pre-TBI alters chronic alcohol consumption and worsens acute and chronic functional outcome post-TBI. We will also examine neuroinflammation as a mechanism that modulates alcohol consumption. An understanding of how pre-injury sleep quality contributes to chronic alcohol consumption following TBI will improve prognostication efforts and early intervention for TBI survivors.

“Repetitive Mild Traumatic Brain Injury and Signs of Accelerated Neurocognitive Aging in Young Adults”
Seed Grant of $24,805
Grantee: Jaclyn Stephens, Ph.D., Colorado State University

People with repetitive mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) have an increased risk for developing diseases, like dementia, as they age. There is a need to better understand disease development and to devise interventions that can prevent it. Our proposed project works toward both. We have some evidence that young adults with repetitive mTBI have signs of premature aging which may contribute to disease development. Thus, we plan to further evaluate young adults with repetitive mTBI to test for other signs of premature aging and find brain-behavior features to target in future intervention work.

“Acute Neuropsychological Profiles of Pediatric Traumatic Brain Injury”
Dissertation Grant of $5,000
Grantee: Mary Simons, Marquette University
Mentor: James B. Hoelzle, Ph.D.

This research will identify acute profiles of pediatric traumatic brain injury (TBI) during inpatient hospitalization. Variables that are predictive of chronic cognitive and psychological outcomes (e.g., pre-injury adaptive functioning; post-injury cognitive functioning) will be used to establish profiles. Differences in long-term cognitive and psychological outcomes, and health care utilization, will be investigated among the identified profiles. Identifying homogenous groups of acute pediatric TBI profiles that are predictive of outcomes will facilitate personalized treatment.

“A Social Ecological View of Participation for Persons of Color Living with Traumatic Brain Injury”
Dissertation Grant of $5,000
Grantee: Judith Wilson, New York University
Mentor: Gerald Voelbel, Ph.D.

This study explores how persons of color living with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) experience participation in relation to the immediate support, community, and societal systems. The persistence of racial disparities in the outcomes for persons with TBI needs to be addressed to improve health outcomes, by detailing the social environments that support or hinder participation. Data from interviews and behavioral observations will be collected to investigate people of color’s experiences of participation after TBI, and those experiences’ relationships with their social environments.

2023 Awards

“Establishing the Mechanisms of TBI-mediated Susceptibility to Alzheimer’s Disease”
Seed Grant of $25,000
Grantee: Joel Blanchard, Ph.D., Icahn School of Medicine at Mt Sinai

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) alters how the human brain ages increasing the susceptibility to Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and dementia later in life. The mechanisms underlying this association are largely unknown. As a result, there are limited diagnostics and therapeutics for intervention. We investigate AD using highly tractable human brain tissue engineered from patient stem cells. Our models have already discovered two FDA-approved drugs that improve memory in AD mice. Here, we propose to apply these models to dissect the mechanistic connections between TBI, genetic risk factors, and AD.

“Characterizing Tau & its Mediators in Repetitive and Chronic Traumatic Brain Injury in Drosophila”
Dissertation Grant of $5,000
Grantee: Nicole Katchur, Princeton University
Mentor: Daniel A. Notterman, MA, M.D.
This grant was supported by Angela Caveness Weisskopf in memory of her late husband, Dr. William Fields Caveness, who was a pioneer in brain injury research.

Repetitive traumatic brain injury (rTBI) is associated with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and remains a significant public health risk with no permanent therapeutic interventions. The proposed study will investigate the role of tau, a key protein in stabilizing axonal transport in neurons, and its mediators in rTBI short- and long-term outcomes in Drosophila. Elucidating the mechanism underlying neuro-dysfunction in CTE will enhance understanding of rTBI’s long-term consequences, guide development of targeted interventions, and improve clinical management of rTBI.

“Examining the Use of Self-Regulation in Behavior Change in Older Adults: A Mixed Method Study”
Dissertation Grant of $4,300
Grantee: Amy Kemp, University of Georgia
Mentor: Katy H. O’Brien, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

Although older adults have the highest rates of traumatic brain injury (TBI) incidence, mostly from falls, little research has examined rehabilitative management in older adults. Health-behavior changes are key to maintaining health and safety. This mixed-method study will collect pilot data from a sample of older adults with TBI. Participants will use a self-regulation strategy to increase the adoption and execution of fall prevention recommendations. These findings will identify factors specific to participation and inform efforts to improve safety and self-management.

“Immune Regulation of White Matter Remodeling and Repair in Traumatic Brain Injury”
Dissertation Grant of $5,000
Grantee: Savannah Kounelis-Wuillaume, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences
Mentor: Martin L. Doughty, Ph.D.

Damage to the brain’s white matter (WM) tracts following traumatic brain injury (TBI) correlates with patient outcomes. WM pathology is reversible acutely after TBI, providing a therapeutic window to improve patient outcomes. Following a TBI, peripheral immune cells (PICs) infiltrate the injured brain and WM myelinating cells adopt pro- or mal-adaptive repair states. We hypothesize WM remodeling and repair following TBI is influenced by PIC infiltration. Our goal is to identify molecular markers of WM pathology for targeted TBI therapy.

“Cholinergic Neurotransmission During Performance of a Sustained Attention Task after TBI”
Dissertation Grant of $4,950
Grantee: Eleni Moschonas, University of Pittsburgh
Mentor: Anthony E. Kline, Ph.D.

Impairments of attention as a result of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is considered the most common cognitive sequalae across all levels of severity. Consequentially, there are currently no FDA-approved pharmacotherapies, due in part to the paucity in understanding the neurobehavioral mechanisms driving post-injury attentional deficits. Therefore, completion of the proposed aims will determine a task-related and neuropharmacological mechanism by which the cholinergic system regulates attentional demands in an injured brain using in vivo sampling techniques in freely-moving and behaving rats.

2022 Awards

“Complement Mediated Cognitive Decline and Neuroinflammation Chronically Post Repetitive Brain Injury”
Seed Grant of $25,000
Grantee: Khalil Mallah, Ph.D., Medical University of South Carolina
Mentor: Stephen Tomlinson, Ph.D.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a change in brain function due to a blow to the head. TBI can result in harmful consequences years after initial insult which include cognitive deficits with symptoms like those seen in Alzheimer’s disease. The changes that occur in the brain after TBI which are responsible for these deficits are not well understood. In this proposed work, I hypothesize that the complement system (a major part of the neuroimmune response after injury) is a major contributor to this phenomenon and inhibiting this system would prevent such deficits seen years after TBI.

“Using Mobile Technologies for Research Engaging Persons with Traumatic Brain Injury and Chronic Pain”
Seed Grant of $24,977.70
Grantee: Michael W. Williams, Ph.D., University of Houston
Mentor: Angelle M. Sander, Ph.D.

Chronic pain is common among people with traumatic brain injury (TBI). Typical clinic-based evaluations of pain may not fully capture patients’ experiences. This pilot study will evaluate the utility and benefit of new mobile technologies to assess pain and related person factors in their natural environment, which may enhance pain assessments and treatment monitoring post TBI. Trait mindfulness (dispositional nonjudgmental, present-moment awareness) will also be assessed as a potential intervention target in a future intervention study using mobile technologies to monitor treatment responses.

“Neurocognitive Effects of Transcranial Photobiomodulation in Chronic TBI”
Dissertation Grant of $5,000
Grantee: Naomi Gaggi, CUNY School of Medicine
Mentor: Junghoon J. Kim, Ph.D.

This project will investigate the cognitive efficacy and underlying hemodynamic effects of a single treatment of transcranial photobiomodulation (tPBM) on prefrontal cortex in adults with chronic moderate-severe traumatic brain injury (cmsTBI). We predict that tPBM will improve local cerebral blood flow, network-level functional connectivity, and executive function in our participants. The findings and insights gained from this work will ultimately lead to the identification of novel therapeutic targets for neurodegeneration and cognitive decline that are prevalent in chronic TBI patients.

“The Implications, Magnitude, and Development of TBI for Individuals Undergoing Treatment for OUD”
Dissertation Grant of $3,675 supported by Dr. Lance and Laura Trexler
Grantee: Hannah Mitchell, East Tennessee State University
Mentor: Meredith K. Ginley, Ph.D.

Despite the high rate of prescribing opioids for pain management following a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the epidemic of opioid use disorder (OUD) in the U.S., little research has analyzed the impact of TBI on OUD treatment. The present study will explore the impact of TBI on OUD treatment outcomes. The chronological trajectory between TBI and opioid initiation and behavioral health correlates of TBI among patients with OUD will also be evaluated. These findings may provide meaningful insight into patients’ prognosis and opportunities to tailor treatment appropriately.

2021 Awards

“The Effects of Early Life Stress on Outcome after Mild Traumatic Brain Injury”
Seed Grant of $25,000
Grantee: Coleen Atkins, Ph.D., University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) is a significant health problem in the US. Although most people with mTBI recover within a few weeks, a subset have persistent symptoms. The factors that contribute to persistent symptoms after mTBI are unknown. One potential factor identified in a study of mTBI patients is pre-exposure to stress in early development. Early life stress is highly prevalent and causes immune dysregulation in adulthood. This proposal will determine if early life stress limits recovery after a mTBI and test if an anti-inflammatory drug improves recovery after mTBI and stress.

“Analyses of the Relationship between Growth Hormone and Sleep after Pediatric Traumatic Brain Injury”
Seed Grant of $25,000 supported by Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C.
Grantee: J Bryce Ortiz, Ph.D., University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix
Mentor: Rachel Rowe, Ph.D.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can lead to dysfunctions of the growth hormone (GH) axis and disrupt the sleep-wake cycle in children. Here, using advanced biological, analytical, and statistical methods, we will determine the relationship between the GH-axis and the sleep-wake cycle using a pediatric TBI animal model. We will also determine how hypothalamic nuclei that control the GH-axis are changed following TBI. These studies will inform us of novel research directions and potential treatments to help treat and care for pediatric TBI survivors.

“Pediatric TBI Effects on Long-term Myelination: Sex Specificity and Neuroimmune Modulation”
Seed Grant of $25,000
Grantee: Kathryn Lenz, Ph.D., The Ohio State University (Psychology)
Mentor: Jonathan Godbout, Ph.D.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the leading cause of pediatric emergency room visits. Boys are more likely than girls to experience early-childhood TBI, which can lead to sex-specific risks for subsequent psychiatric disorders. Neuroimmune cells mediate healthy brain development, are sexually dimorphic, and their function is perturbed by TBI. Using a preclinical rat model of TBI, we will assess sex-specific inflammatory function and determine how brain myelination and motivated behavior are impacted, to discover new potential strategies to treat or prevent long-term outcomes of childhood TBI.

“The Role of FK506-binding Protein 51 (FKBP5) in Long-term Psychosocial Outcomes of Pediatric TBI”
Dissertation Grant of $5,000 supported by Dr. Lance and Laura Trexler
Grantee: Dana Lengel, Drexel University
Mentor: Ramesh Raghupathi, Ph.D.

Childhood Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) results in increased risk for psychosocial disorders that can emerge in adolescence and adulthood. This vulnerability may be due to the susceptibility of developing neural stress circuits to TBI. In this proposal, we investigate the role of FK506-binding protein 51 (FKBP5), a co-chaperone of the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) and psychiatric risk factor, in behavioral and neuroendocrine effects of social stress following pediatric TBI. Targeting the GR system through FKBP5 may be able to mitigate the risk for psychosocial disorders following childhood TBI.

2020 Awards

“The Epidemiology of Comorbidities and Associations with Functional Outcome among Adults with TBI.”
Seed Grant of $24,893
Grantee: Raj Kumar, Ph.D., Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (Rehabilitation and Human Performance)                 
Mentor: Kristen Dams-O’Connor, Ph.D.

As rates of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) increase and the population ages, there is an unprecedented urgency to understand the burden and implications of health morbidity on TBI recovery. Prior TBI studies are limited by incomplete disease characterization and under-representation of older adults, necessitating use of population-based data. Existing indices focus on predicting acute mortality (not function) and exclude diseases associated with TBI. We propose: 1) to use an administrative dataset to characterize disease prevalence, and 2) to create a functionally-relevant comorbidity index. 

“Precision identification and targeting of rod microglia in diffuse brain-injured cortex”
Dissertation Award of $5,000
Grantee: Katherine Giordano, University of Arizona College of Medicine (Child Health)
Mentor: Jonathan Lifshitz, Ph.D.

Neurological insults, such as traumatic brain injury, trigger inflammation signaling that go on to activate microglial cells. In this proposal, we investigate lesser-known microglia subtype, the rod microglia, to determine cell surface markers and gene expression unique to their occurrence after diffuse traumatic brain injury. These rod microglia markers could serve as biomarkers in the diagnosis and prognosis of injury and recovery from neurological injury.

“Impact of Intestinal Inflammation on Long-Term Neurological Outcomes Following TBI in Mice”
Dissertation Award of $5,000
Grantee: Marie Hanscom, University of Maryland-Baltimore (STAR-ORC)
Mentor: Terez Shea-Donohue, Ph.D.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) causes peripheral organ dysfunction including gastrointestinal dysfunction. Increased gut leakiness is associated with greater risk of comorbidities in trauma patients. TBI patients surviving longer than 1-year post-injury are more likely to die of sepsis and digestive conditions. Infection with an intestinal pathogen in mice worsened TBI lesion volume. This study examines the effect of intestinal inflammation following TBI on long-term TBI-associated brain injury, inflammation and cognitive dysfunction and the role of the brain-gut axis in TBI disease progression.

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