Richmond, Va.
Thursday, July 24, 2014

VCU will lead $62 million study of traumatic brain injuries in military personnel

Monday, Aug. 12, 2013

Virginia Commonwealth University has been awarded a $62 million federal grant to oversee a national research consortium of universities, hospitals and clinics that will study what happens to service members and veterans who suffer mild traumatic brain injuries or concussions, the White House announced.

The concussions that will be studied include both combat injuries, such as those from blasts and bullets, and civilian injuries, such as those from car accidents, sports injuries and falls.

“We recognize that an award of this magnitude only results from the research excellence that is fostered and encouraged across VCU.”

The researchers involved in the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs grant have been studying brain injuries and working with Veterans Health Administration hospitals, including Richmond's Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center, the military and universities for many years. They now will share their knowledge and work toward solutions for traumatic brain injuries. The principal investigator on the grant is David X. Cifu, M.D., chair of the VCU School of Medicine’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and executive director of VCU's Center of Researcher Sciences and Engineering (CERSE).

“This is another significant milestone in VCU’s ascent as a national-caliber public research university,” said VCU President Michael Rao. “We recognize that an award of this magnitude only results from the research excellence that is fostered and encouraged across VCU.”

This is the second particularly large grant that VCU has received in recent years. In 2010, VCU received a $20 million grant – until now, the largest federal award in its history – from the National Institutes of Health to become part of a nationwide consortium of research institutions working to turn laboratory discoveries into treatments for patients. VCU was the only academic health center in Virginia selected to join the consortium.

"The magnitude of traumatic brain injury research at VCU, and all the neurosciences for that matter, has laid the groundwork for a grant like this," said Sheldon Retchin, M.D., senior vice president of VCU Health Sciences and CEO of the VCU Health System. "The research across the rehabilitation medicine spectrum, particularly as it relates to traumatic brain injuries and military personnel, was the springboard to this research grant.

"VCU's work in rehabilitation medicine was one of the cornerstones of the grant from the National Institutes of Health,” Retchin said. “That grant placed VCU among an elite consortium of 61 nationally prominent research institutions all focused on the importance of translational science and accelerating discoveries into treatments for patients."

“This project is specifically designed to develop an understanding of the linkage between concussion/blast exposures and chronic effects, comorbidities and neurodegeneration in service members and veterans with combat-related TBI exposure,” Cifu said. “The project will also assist in providing current and future care, guide the development of novel interventions to prevent or mitigate cognitive and behavioral decline and contribute to long-term planning for service member and veteran needs and benefits.”

“This project is specifically designed to develop an understanding of the linkage between concussion/blast exposures and chronic effects in service members and veterans with combat-related TBI exposure.”

The members in the TBI consortium will study groups of veterans who have been injured in prior wars, such as in Korea and Vietnam, in more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in car accidents, sports and falls in the United States.

The researchers will try to determine who is more likely to have problems after these injuries, how the injured can be better treated and cared for, and what the injured and their families can expect over their lifetime.

This information will help service members and veterans who have had a brain injury, and their families, better understand what has happened to them, what they can do to feel better, and what they can expect as they get older. It also will help the people who provide care for service members and veterans understand the problems that can occur and better ways to provide care. In addition, it will help the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the military health systems provide the best possible care and the right benefits for service members and veterans who have these injuries.

The research is expected to continue for five years, with information available as early as the six-month mark.

According to Department of Defense grant materials, this is the first program that brings together more than 30 of the most experienced brain injury scientists and doctors from the VA, the military and universities to work on the same set of problems. The network is set up to allow for a better understanding of why some people get bad symptoms after a brain injury and others do not, what can be done for those people who continue to have these problems, and what can be done to prevent some of the long-term problems, including dementia, that some service members and veterans develop later in their lives.

The overall award is the Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium, but the CENC that Cifu will head up for the consortium is the Military and Veterans Injury Recovery and Rehabilitation Network, or MAVERICK.

About VCU and VCU Medical Center

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 223 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-eight of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University comprise VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see www.vcu.edu.

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David X. Cifu