Vcu’s Povlishock named an outstanding scientist of 2006
Sathya Achia Abraham
University Public Affairs
Gov. Tim Kaine and the Science Museum of
Virginia have honored a Virginia Commonwealth University scientist as a
top contributor in science for identifying how the brain responds to
injury and translating that work into promising clinical trials
for brain injured patients.
John T. Povlishock, Ph.D.,
professor and chair of the VCU School of Medicine’s
Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, and director of the
Commonwealth Center for the Study of Brain Injury,
is among four
honorees named as Outstanding Scientists and Industrialists of 2006.
“Dr. Povlishock’s research has significantly advanced our understanding
of traumatic brain injury,” said Jerome F. Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D.,
dean of the VCU School of Medicine. “His findings have disclosed new
avenues to prevent permanent damage and loss of brain function.
Moreover, Dr. Povlishock’s partnership with VCU’s outstanding
neurosurgeons has made possible the clinical application of laboratory
findings, placing VCU at the forefront of care of individuals with these
potentially devastating injuries.”
For the past 30 years, Povlishock and his research group have studied
how axons respond to traumatic brain injury, or TBI, a complex condition
that affects an estimated 2 million Americans each year.
began his work in the
had virtually no knowledge of how traumatic injury to the head and neck
directly affected the brain to cause subsequent damage and neurological
dysfunction or death.
A major breakthrough in understanding TBI came when
Povlishock and his team observed that damage to the brain continues past
the initial moment of trauma, and can occur over the course of several
hours. Previously, scientists had believed that the brain’s compromise
was due to the forces of the initial impact that tore or bruised the
brain and its neuronal and vascular components.
Instead, Povlishock and his team found that the traumatic
episode triggers a progressive cascade of cellular events that are
diffusely scattered throughout the brain. From this point, an evolution
of change occurs within the brain itself causing cellular membranes of
both the axons and neurons to become distorted and altered. This pathway
results in focal axonal swelling and local disconnection,
which can then result
in permanent damage. The
widespread damage to axons, which are vulnerable to traumatic injury, is
a key feature of TBI.
Based on these important findings, Povlishock and his
team have identified several potential interventions that target these
pathological cascades and prevent the brain tissue from undergoing
further damage and cell death. Some of these interventions are currently
under investigation in clinical trials.
TBI, which has been characterized as a silent epidemic in
the United States, is a common type of injury in soldiers in the Iraq
conflict. It also results from motor vehicle accidents, falls and sports
injuries. TBI, which affects primarily young people from
age 18 to 24,
can occur when the head is suddenly accelerated and decelerated such as
in a car accident, or when the head violently strikes an object. The
consequences of TBI can be lifelong.
Povlishock, also a
dedicated educator and administrator,
joined the faculty of
Virginia Commonwealth University in 1973. He has trained
more than 25 pre- and postdoctoral students. Additionally, for the past
15 years, he has served as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of