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Rory A. Cooper

University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

University of Pittsburgh Designated as National Center to Study Traumatic Brain Injury

PITTSBURGH, January 3, 2003 The University of Pittsburgh has received two grants totaling $3.9 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that will support clinical research aimed at developing and testing the latest innovations in rehabilitation technology and discovering more effective pharmaceutical treatments for persons with traumatic brain injury (TBI).

These grants make the University of Pittsburgh the undisputed leader in TBI research and rehabilitation in the state and one of the leading centers in the country. It is estimated that between 2.5 and 6.5 million Americans alive today have had a traumatic brain injury and many of those have been left with significant cognitive, behavioral and communicative disabilities.

To receive the distinction of being a model system is among the highest recognitions in the field of rehabilitation, said Ross Zafonte, D.O., chair, department of physical medicine and rehabilitation, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and principal investigator of both grants. The University of Pittsburgh and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) have long been leaders in rehabilitative care and research. Our comprehensive continuum of care for people who suffer TBI, which begins with emergency response, continues with acute care and then to rehabilitation, is already nationally recognized for its excellence. This designation demonstrates our continuing commitment to expand our knowledge base and improve treatments in order to even better service those with disabilities.

Although we understand a great deal about the brain and its response to trauma, we still have much to learn about how to reverse the damage done from head injuries, said Gary Goldberg, M.D., director of brain injury rehabilitation at UPMC Rehabilitation Hospital and professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh. Through the Brain Injury Model System and the Clinical Network, we hope to take the next step forward in helping patients with brain injuries achieve and maintain an improved quality of life.

The two grants will evaluate rehabilitative and pharmaceutical interventions in persons with traumatic brain injury and their impact on patient recovery.

University of Pittsburgh Brain Injury Model System

The first grant is a $1.8 million dollar grant from the National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) that will create the University of Pittsburgh Brain Injury Model System (UPBI). The UPBI will evaluate the impact of three innovations in rehabilitation technology. These innovations include: a unique personalized powered wheelchair; virtual reality and robotics; and a Web-based virtual case manager support structure.

Model systems are awarded to programs that demonstrate excellence in the treatment of persons with TBI. UPBI will work independently and in collaboration with 20 other model systems across the country to improve care for patients with TBI.

Through the projects within the Model System grant, we have the potential to develop and improve on technology used by TBI patients and their caregivers, said Rory Cooper, Ph.D., professor of rehabilitation science and technology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences . These technologies can help patients integrate into the community, live independently and can increase employment opportunities.

Traumatic Brain Injury Clinical Trial Network

The second grant, a $2.1 million dollar grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), will create a cooperative multi-center Traumatic Brain Injury Clinical Trial Network (TBI Clinical Network). The University of Pittsburgh's research focuses include evaluating the mechanisms of brain injury and recovery of dopamine systems, one of several neurotransmitter systems believed to be altered in TBI; gender related differences in injury, recovery and response to therapies; and genetic influences on mechanisms of injury, recovery and medication efficacy. The network is made up of five centers across the country.

The Clinical Network allows us to gather data from talented researchers both here and from other centers so we can better evaluate the efficacy of various treatments and understand how to affect and take advantage of the mechanisms that impact recovery, said Amy Wagner, M.D., assistant professor, department of physical medicine and rehabilitation, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. We hope to study the relationship between pharmaceutical intervention and rehabilitation to determine what combination of methods will give patients with TBI the best possible long-term outcome.

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