Researcher Spotlight: Raj Kumar, Ph.D.
The Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA) announced the winners of its 2019 Brain Injury Research Fund competition in early 2020. Raj Kumar, Ph.D., Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, was awarded a seed grant of $25,000 for his project, “The Epidemiology of Comorbidities and Associations with Functional Outcome among Adults with TBI.” Learn more about Raj and his research below.
Project Title: The Epidemiology of Comorbidities and Associations with Functional Outcome among Adults with TBI
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.
What compelled you to pursue a career in research?
My mom was a researcher, so I grew up going to her laboratory and watching her do her work. In school, I was always most interested and fascinated in biology and the sciences. During college, I had my first exposure to working in a research lab, and was so interested in the process of coming up with a research idea, designing an experiment and executing a research study. I decided to pursue Public Health and population traumatic brain injury (TBI) research because of my interest in answering important research questions regarding persons with TBI at the population level.
How has support from the Brain Injury Association of America helped you achieve your research goals?
My award from the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA) means so much to my career development. It is the first research grant I have received as principal investigator, and really will set the foundation for my career as an independent scientist. To me, the benefit from this award is tangible; I used pilot data from my seed grant to put in my National Institute of Health (NIH) K99/R00 Career Development Award. If I end up getting the award from NIH, I think a large part of it will be because of my BIAA seed funds.
What message do you have for donors supporting the Brain Injury Research Fund?
Their contributions make a huge difference to early career investigators who are trying to enter the field of brain injury research. Funding is competitive for seed grants, and BIAA has an excellent panel of scientific reviewers that sift through dozens of qualified applicants. Those that get awards are highly deserving, and their research has the chance to positively impact the lives of persons living with brain injury.
Why is it important to support brain injury research?
Brain injury research is still in its nascency compared to other biomedical fields, like cancer. There is still much we do not know in terms of effective treatments and heterogeneity in patient outcomes. The only way to make scientific progress is to invest in promising research and researchers that have the new and creative ideas to advance our field.
What else would be helpful for our community of donors and supporters to know about your work?
I have heard some experts refer to this time as the golden age of brain injury research. There are so many new, highly trained investigators entering our field. I have a great deal of hope that we will make progress in the next several years in terms of understanding the biology of brain injury and treatments to help persons living with brain injury. Organizations like BIAA are fundamental to our progress, and donors play an integral role in equipping researchers with the requisite resources to conduct their research.
My research focuses on elucidating epidemiology, risk factors, and implications for comorbid diseases to recovery after Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Prior to joining Mount Sinai, I spent five years at the University of Pittsburgh working for Dr. Amy Wagner. My experiences have spanned many different aspects of the research continuum, including recruitment, data management and analysis, and interpretation and dissemination of research results. My doctoral training at the University of Pittsburgh focused on “Population Neuroscience,” where I took advanced coursework in Biostatistics, Epidemiological Methods, and Neuroscience. My current position as a post-doctoral fellow under the mentorship of Dr. Kristen Dams-O’Connor at the Brain Injury Research Center at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai represents a progression in my training in brain injury research. During my postdoctoral fellowship, I have begun implementing my expertise in design and rigorous quantitative methods to conduct clinical research studies studying the long-term medical and psychiatric health consequences of TBI.
Bachelor of Science in Psychology, University of Georgia; Master of Public Health in Chronic Disease Epidemiology, Yale University; Doctor of Philosophy in Neuroepidemiology, University of Pittsburgh; Post-doctoral fellow in brain injury research, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.