UT Southwestern launches Texas Institute for Brain Injury & Repair

DALLAS -- UT Southwestern Medical Center today launched the new Texas Institute for Brain Injury and Repair, a state-funded initiative to promote innovative research and education, with the goals of accelerating translation into better diagnosis and revolutionizing care for millions of people who suffer brain injuries each year.

The event brought together state government leaders, supporters of UT Southwestern, and representatives from the National Football League (NFL) to celebrate this new program. Relying on UT Southwestern's strengths in basic and translational research, the Institute will include scientists focused on improving the understanding of brain damage at the molecular and cellular level, as well as those seeking to identify new therapeutic opportunities, which could ultimately be delivered in clinical care settings.

"This Institute reflects an effort unprecedented in its commitment to address the devastating effects of brain injury," said UT Southwestern President Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky. "The initiative involves the entire community, from patients and parents to scientists and caregivers."

"The expansive scope – from bench science to bedside treatment – and an intense focus on novel therapeutic advances already being developed at UT Southwestern will, we hope, lead to tremendous benefits for those with brain trauma. This includes thousands of military veterans, athletes, and accident victims in Texas and beyond who are dealing with this challenge," Dr. Podolsky added.

Each year in the U.S., severe brain injuries strike 1.7 million people, accounting for about 30 percent of all injury-related deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most traumatic brain injuries – about 75 percent – are concussions or other forms of mild traumatic brain injury, with sports-related concussions affecting about 3.8 million people in the U.S. annually. The U.S. Department of Defense estimates that since 2000, more than 287,000 U.S. service members have sustained traumatic brain injuries either in training or in combat. In Texas alone, more than 144,000 people sustain traumatic brain injuries annually, and about 5,700 are permanently disabled, according to the Texas Brain Injury Alliance.

Partners in progress

The new Institute, which is a component of the Harold and Annette Simmons Comprehensive Center for Research and Treatment in Brain and Neurological Disorders, is a collaborative initiative involving local and national organizations, including the National Institutes of Health, UT Dallas and its Center for BrainHealth, Children's Medical Center, Dallas VA Medical Center, and Parkland Health & Hospital System, as well as Texas Health Resources and Texas Health Ben Hogan Sports Medicine.

The Institute received significant support from the Texas Legislature, which provided a $15 million allocation, the largest commitment of funds for a brain injury initiative in state history. Representatives Jim Pitts and Dan Branch – who worked tirelessly to provide the critical state support – spoke at the launch event.

The Institute also has ties to the NFL and the U.S. Department of Defense, which have a strong commitment to improve brain injury research and care. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is a featured speaker at a dinner for supporters of the Institute following the launch event. In earlier comments, Mr. Goodell said: "UT Southwestern's proven expertise is what makes it an ideal institution to advance the diagnosis, treatment, and research around concussion and other types of brain injury. Their vision in addressing this public health issue aligns with the NFL's work to provide resources that will lead to better education, prevention, and care for people of all ages affected by traumatic brain injury."

UT Southwestern -- A centerpiece for research and clinical care

With its strong reputation for basic neuroscience research, UT Southwestern is serving as the centerpiece for the Institute. U.S. News & World Report ranks UT Southwestern's Neurological Surgery and Neurology and Neurotherapeutics departments among the top 20 in the nation. For decades, UT Southwestern researchers have improved the understanding of how the brain naturally repairs itself after an injury, including a traumatic impact, stroke, chronic conditions (such as Alzheimer's disease), or brain tumors.

"We're focused on everything from treating war veterans who are returning home and athletes trying to return to play, to maximizing the recovery of people suffering from brain injuries," said Dr. Hunt Batjer, Chairman of Neurological Surgery at UT Southwestern and co-chair of the NFL's Head, Neck, and Spine Committee.

The Texas Institute for Brain Injury and Repair at UT Southwestern will focus on three key areas, each of which is expected to have derivative implications for patient care:

  • Innovative basic science and clinical translation research,
  • State-of-the-art brain imaging, supported by UT Southwestern's Advanced Imaging Research Center, which also receives state support, and
  • Community education and prevention strategies.

"The depth of our expertise across the spectrum of pediatric and adult neurosciences will allow us to do things that other big centers don't even think about doing," said Dr. Mark Goldberg, Chairman of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics at UT Southwestern. "We will draw on the great strengths of UT Southwestern in applying scientific rigor and commitment to improve patient care, and to addressing the most challenging medical needs."

UT Southwestern will continue its cutting-edge research, including:

  • Developing drug compounds and medical devices with the potential to reverse brain damage,
  • Identifying new imaging and neuropathological biomarkers that predict neurological deterioration after an injury, and provide insights into the process of nervous system repair, and
  • Conducting longitudinal research that identifies factors that predispose individuals to long-term disability resulting from repeated impacts to the brain. UT Southwestern, in collaboration with UT Dallas, is working with former NFL players to diagnose and treat chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease.

Another key initiative will be creating a comprehensive concussion network. This network will serve as a model for delivering brain injury education and consultative care to coaches, school nurses, athletic trainers, and parents. UT Southwestern also will offer a related sports medicine program for children and adults, a spinal care program, state-of-the-art imaging capabilities, neuropsychological evaluations, rehabilitation services, and therapeutic interventions.

"This new Institute is truly groundbreaking," said Dr. Batjer. "We see it as a tremendous opportunity to get involved and help solve some of the challenges associated with a prevalent health issue."

-- University of Texas-Southwestern

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