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UPMC, Pitt Earn Designation as Model System for Traumatic Brain Injury

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 9, 2012 – Entering a group of just seven hospitals and four university-related care centers nationwide in both categories, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) has been awarded a multi-year grant that distinguishes UPMC Rehabilitation Institute as a Model System of Care for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) – joining its designation as a Model System for Spinal Cord Injury (SCI).
This designation, bestowed by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), comes as part of a five-year, $2,150,490 grant that connects Pitt and UPMC to a network of only 15 other TBI Model System sites across America. The Model Systems programs aim to attain excellence in patient care, promote scientific research to improve outcomes and enrich the lives of individuals with disabilities. By adding TBI, Pitt along with the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute and the UPMC Centers for Rehab Services can build upon their existing efforts to improve support and care for patients with disabilities in the community and beyond. 
“We are very excited to participate as another Model System site,” said Amy Wagner, M.D., associate professor and vice chair of research, PM&R. “This gives us further opportunities to showcase the incredible wealth of scientific and medical talent that we have in Pittsburgh regarding the care of individuals with TBI, and to participate nationally with other experts who are continuously working to improve the available treatments.”
TBI is the leading cause of death and persistent disability across the globe due to falls, car accidents and more. Recoveries may vary widely depending upon the severity and type of injury, among other factors. NIDRR initiated the Model Systems approach over 30 years ago with the goal of researching and improving the care and recovery of individuals with significant disability, including TBI, SCI and burn injuries. Each Model System award is based on the center’s ability to conduct cutting-edge clinical research, as well as to provide multidisciplinary rehabilitation over the entire course of patients’ recovery – from the time they arrive at a hospital for emergency care, during inpatient rehabilitation, and as they work to return to the community. 
Federal guidelines require each center to participate in locally and nationally collaborative research projects, often in such NIDRR areas of emphasis as employment, health/function, independent living and community integration. Patients at UPMC Rehabilitation Institute will have the opportunity to participate in such projects as well as take part in a national Model Systems database that has collected data about injury, recovery and outcomes of individuals with TBI since 1987. This database currently stores information from more than 10,000 patients, providing a trove of information for the scientific study by TBI researchers across the Model Systems network. 
Only two of the nation’s top-10 hospitals as ranked by U.S. News & World Report this past summer, No. 1 Massachusetts General and No. 10 UPMC, contain both TBI and SCI Model Systems.
Dr. Wagner will serve as the UPMC TBI Model System director and fellow PM&R faculty members Joseph Ricker, Ph.D., and Patricia Arenth, Ph.D., will co-direct components of the project.  Dr. Wagner will use her internationally recognized biomarker research in TBI as part of the local study within the TBI Model Systems grant. This research will focus on “personalized medicine” through examining biological and genetic profiles of patients, in addition to other social, functional and cognitive factors, to determine how individual characteristics and experiences might impact each person’s recovery.
“Rehabilitation after traumatic brain injury requires a person-centered and individualized approach to care,” Dr. Wagner said. “Our teams of physicians and medical staff work to develop an individual patient’s plan that takes into account not only the person’s medical needs, but also their personal history and future goals. We know that patients are more likely to participate fully and have better outcomes if we take such a personalized approach.” 
Just as the word “genome” refers to the full set of genetic material, she added, “At Pitt, we have developed a program that we call ‘Rehabilomics.’ Our goal is to learn about the ‘whole picture’ of how a person is affected by an injury, such as TBI, and to understand how we can help each individual return to their highest level of functioning possible. We are in an amazing position to do this, because within our system we have so many scientists who can understand the genetic and biological impact of injury at the cellular level, experts in acute and long-term medical care and therapy, and scientists studying TBI via neuroimaging, cognitive and psychological methods. In addition, we have community partnerships which will allow us to share what we learn directly with individuals and families impacted by TBI.”

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