The National Institutes of Health announced on Dec. 16 significant financial support for eight research projects focused on traumatic brain injury, which currently ranks as the leading cause of death in young adults.
"We need to be able to predict which patterns of injury are rapidly reversible and which are not," Story Landis, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the NIH, said in a prepared statement. "This program will help researchers get closer to answering some of the important questions about concussion for our youth who play sports and their parents."
Funding, which totals more than $14 million, comes from the Sports and Health Research Program, a partnership between the NIH, the National Football League, and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health. The eight projects earmarked to receive support include two cooperative agreements and six pilot studies.
For one of the two cooperative agreements, which will receive $6 million each, researchers led by Dr. Ann C. McKee of Boston University and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will strive to define a set of criteria for the various stages of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Then, imaging teams will correlate the findings with brain scans that might be used to diagnose CTE in individuals during their lifetimes. For the other cooperative agreement, researchers led by Wayne Gordon, Ph.D., of Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, have a goal of identifying and describing the chronic effects of mild, moderate, and severe traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and comparing these with the features of CTE. Then, they will employ various brain imaging techniques in patients with a wide range of head injuries, as well as on postmortem tissue, to identify markers that may eventually be used to diagnose the degenerative effects of TBI.
"Although the two cooperative agreements focus on different aspects of TBI, their combined results promise to answer critical questions about the chronic effects of single versus repetitive injuries on the brain, how repetitive TBI might lead to CTE, how commonly these changes occur in an adult population, and how CTE relates to neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease," Dr. Landis said.
The six pilot studies, which are projected to receive just over $2 million in total funding, focus on ways to improve the diagnosis of concussion and identify potential biomarkers that can be used to track a patient’s recovery. They range from testing of a mobile application designed to track the progress of a young athlete from the time of a concussion injury until they are cleared to return to play, to the development of a portable eye-tracking instrument that can be used to diagnose concussions on the sidelines and to monitor the injury progression in high school and college athletes.