UMD, UMB col­lab­o­ra­tion aims to de­mys­tify brain trauma

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Jay Per­man and Wal­lace D. Loh Dr. Jay Per­man ( jper­man@umary­ is pres­i­dent of the Univer­sity of Mary­land, Bal­ti­more, and Wal­lace D. Loh ( pres­i­; Twit­ter: @pres­i­dent­loh) is pres­i­dent of the Univer­sity of Mary­land, Col­lege Park.

More than 2.5 mil­lion emer­gency room vis­its, hos­pi­tal­iza­tions and deaths each year are as­so­ci­ated with trau­matic brain in­jury (TBI). Such trauma is one of today’s most im­por­tant med­i­cal is­sues — and one of the most enig­matic. Th­ese in­juries can cause de­pres­sion, brain at­ro­phy and cog­ni­tive de­cline, dam­ag­ing vic­tims’ mem­ory and abil­ity to rea­son or com­mu­ni­cate. And sci­en­tists know that there’s still much more to learn about pre­vent­ing brain trauma and re­vers­ing dam­age once an in­jury has oc­curred.

Today, the Univer­sity of Mary­land, Col­lege Park and the Univer­sity of Mary­land, Bal­ti­more will un­veil a bold vi­sion for Cole Field House in Col­lege Park that holds sig­nif­i­cant prom­ise for vic­tims of brain trauma who strug­gle with re­cov­ery. Cole Field House will be home to the Cen­ter for Sports Medicine, Health and Hu­man Per­for­mance, which will in­te­grate re­search, in­no­va­tion and ath­let­ics and bring to­gether lead­ing re­searchers in neu­ro­science, ge­nomics, biome­chan­ics and other fields en­gaged in the ad­vanced study of the brain and ner­vous sys­tem.

Co-di­rected by Univer­sity of Mary­land bi­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor El­iz­a­beth Quin­lan and Dr. Alan Faden, David S. Brown Pro­fes­sor in Trauma at the Univer­sity of Mary­land School of Medicine in Bal­ti­more, the cen­ter will join the re­search and clin­i­cal ex­per­tise of our two in­sti­tu­tions to an­swer crit­i­cal ques­tions about brain in­juries: What are the mech­a­nisms that lead to cell death or cell dys­func­tion after brain in­jury? Why do peo­ple re­cover dif­fer­ently? What can be done to pro­mote re­cov­ery and re­sponse?

Lead­ing the search for an­swers, re­searchers at Cole Field House will de­velop bet­ter di­ag­nos­tic tools and use “big data” com­put­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties to map the brain’s net­work of meta­bolic path­ways and mem­branes. They will ex­plore how hu­mans can re­ac­ti­vate flex­i­bil­ity in the brain fol­low­ing trauma, thereby lim­it­ing the con­se­quences of brain in­jury and speed­ing re­cov­ery.

We have seeded the cen­ter with $3 mil­lion in re­search fund­ing from the state, and our goal is that the re­search we con­duct in­clude fac­ulty from both uni­ver­si­ties and that it be un­der­taken with an eye to­ward prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tion. Cole Field House will also be home to an or­tho­pe­dic clinic, bring­ing lead­ing-edge med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties to Col­lege Park and al­low­ing for the rapid trans­la­tion of re­search into prac­tice for the ben­e­fit of the en­tire com­mu­nity.

The Cen­ter for Sports Medicine, Health and Hu­man Per­for­mance builds on ex­ist­ing strengths. In Col­lege Park, for ex­am­ple, ex­perts are al­ready study­ing how mild brain in­juries af­fect the brain’s me­chan­i­cal prop­er­ties, and they’re as­sess­ing the im­pact of TBI on chil­dren’s cog­ni­tivelin­guis­tic abil­i­ties. In Bal­ti­more, re­searchers have made sig­nif­i­cant break­throughs re­gard­ing the cause of chronic brain dam­age and neu­ropsy­chi­atric prob­lems after trauma, show­ing that long-term in­flam­ma­tion is a key cul­prit be­hind many of the symp­toms linked with TBI.

This cen­ter is just the lat­est ex­am­ple of the in­no­va­tive think­ing that char­ac­ter­izes the part­ner­ship of our two uni­ver­si­ties. For nearly five years, our uni­ver­si­ties have col­lab­o­rated on an un­prece­dented scale, lever­ag­ing our con­sid­er­able strengths to ad­vance in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary re­search, cre­ate new op­por­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents and ad­dress crit­i­cal prob­lems of health and science for the peo­ple of Mary­land and the na­tion. The Univer­sity of Mary­land Strate­gic Part­ner­ship, which took ef­fect this month, builds on this MPow­er­ing the State al­liance and will have an even greater im­pact on the next gen­er­a­tion of in­no­va­tors and, more im­por­tantly, on the peo­ple they serve.

With trau­matic brain in­jury con­tribut­ing to about 30 per­cent of all in­jury deaths in the U.S. each year, and with the es­ti­mated an­nual cost of TBI at more than $76 bil­lion, this is a vi­tal area for our col­lab­o­ra­tion. To­gether we’ll achieve a fuller un­der­stand­ing of the hu­man brain and help sur­vivors of brain in­jury lead more pro­duc­tive and more ful­fill­ing lives.

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