USF awarded $1.57 M to study TBI, other battlefield-related conditions

The Department of Defense grant may lead to better treatments, readjustment skills for veterans

Tampa, FL (Jan. 31, 2012) – The University of South Florida has received a $1.57 million U.S. Department of Defense grant to conduct translational research on traumatic brain injury and other battlefield related injuries and diseases. The studies, many in collaboration with James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, are intended to improve the quality of life for military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Traumatic brain injury, or TBI, is known as the signature injury of soldiers returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq. Blast forces sustained in combat often cause damage to parts of the brain critical to high-level functions influencing memory, attention, decision-making and motor skills. Many veterans developing symptoms after TBI also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

U.S. soldiers conduct combat patrol in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy
of Department of Defense.

“Working with the VA, the Department of Defense and private research entities, we will develop novel studies – everything from drug discovery and preclinical work to clinical, social and behavioral trials,” said principal investigator Dr. Paul R. Sanberg, USF senior associate vice president for research and innovation and director of the USF Center of Excellence for Aging and Brain Repair. “Our multidisciplinary work will provide critical knowledge about TBI and its complications that could lead to more effective diagnosis and treatments for soldiers and veterans, as well as skills to improve their physical and psychological adjustment into civilian life.”

“This new federal award is a tremendous boost to USF’s efforts to build a research infrastructure to support our veterans reintegration strategy,” said Karen Holbrook, PhD, USF senior vice president for research, innovation and global affairs.

The two-year, DOD-funded grant joins faculty from across colleges and disciplines. Among USF faculty members leading studies are Cesar Borlongan, PhD; Juan Sanchez-Ramos, MD, PhD, and Michael Schoenberg, PhD; all from the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine; Theresa Chisolm, PhD, William Kearns, PhD, and Larry Schonfeld, PhD, College of Behavioral and Community Sciences; David Diamond, PhD, College of Arts and Sciences; William S. Quillen, PT, DPT, PhD, and Larry Mengelkoch, PhD; School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences; and Larry Braue, USF Office of Veterans Services.

Dr. Paul Sanberg, USF senior associate vice president for research
and innovation,  is  overseeing the DOD-funded  projects.

The grant involves four major projects:

• Researchers will assess in animal models how granulocyte colony stimulating factor (GCSF), a growth factor that mobilizes the body’s own stem cells, may help treat traumatic brain injury.

• A clinical trial will test whether GCSF reduces neurological damage and improves recovery of memory, decision-making and other cognitive functions in soldiers and veterans with TBI, even when administered a month or two after the initial injury. Patients will be recruited from the polytrauma rehabilitation and blast injury programs at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital.

• In an attempt to identify better diagnostic measures for mild TBI, a frequently underdiagnosed condition, a study will compare the balance, gait, hearing and vestibular functions of otherwise healthy USF student veterans with and without self-reported TBI to those of non-veteran students. Evaluations will be conducted at the USF School of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Sciences Human Functional Performance Laboratory.

• Using advanced technology researchers will monitor changes in patterns of everyday movement and the cognitive function of TBI patients undergoing smart house-based rehabilitation at the Tampa VA hospital’s Polytrauma Transitional Rehabilitation Program. The study will evaluate whether scientific analysis of movements, tracked by devices like radiofrequency identification and global positioning systems, can help assess therapeutic improvement. A second arm of the study will investigate whether variability in walking patterns is greater for USF student veterans reporting mild TBI than for those without this diagnosis.

The new DOD award adds momentum to USF’s plans to work with the VA and DOD to build a first-of-its kind Center for Rehabilitation, Science, Engineering and Medicine, an interdisciplinary research, education and treatment facility. Over the last three years, the university’s Veterans Reintegration Strategy program has joined researchers across colleges and disciplines to work on studies in areas including TBI, PTSD, robotics and prosthetics, gait and balance, and aging-related disorders.

“This award reflects USF’s collaborative efforts to leverage our research and academic expertise to enhance the quality of life of our men and women in uniform, and their families, who have so selflessly served this country,” said Lt. Gen. Martin Steele (USMC retired), executive director of USF Military Partnerships. “It builds, not only upon interdisciplinary research within the university, but also strengthens our longstanding ties with Tampa Bay’s military community through two major VA hospitals, MacDill Air Force Base, U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command.”

Earlier this month at a news conference announcing an initiative of the country’s top medical schools, including the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, to ensure care for veterans and their families, First Lady Michelle Obama recognized USF as an example of universities stepping up to meet veterans’ unique health care needs.

- USF -

The University of South Florida is a high-impact, global research university dedicated to student success. USF is classified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in the top tier of research universities, a distinction attained by only 2.2 percent of all universities. It is ranked 44th in total research expenditures and 34th in federal research expenditures for public universities by the National Science Foundation. The USF System has an annual budget of $1.5 billion, an annual economic impact of $3.7 billion, and serves 47,000 students in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland.

Media contacts:
Anne DeLotto Baier, abaier@health.usf.edu or (813) 974-3303
Barbara Melendez, bmelendez@usf.edu or (813) 974-4563

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