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Brain and Spine Injury Program

The Brain and Spine Injury Program consists of a number of programs developed to better understand and treat the problems associated with traumatic injury to the central nervous system, brain and spinal cord, in both adults and children. 

The department’s adult clinical neurotrauma division, led by David Okonkwo, MD, PhD, remains a world leader in the treatment of and research into traumatic brain injury. The neurotrauma service works closely with integral colleagues from the Trauma Division, Critical Care Medicine, Neurophysiology, Neuroradiology, and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation to provide the most sophisticated treatments available to persons suffering from traumatic brain injury.

The department collaborates with investigators worldwide to advance the evaluation, treatment and outcomes of patients suffering traumatic injuries of the spinal column and spinal cord. The Neurotrauma Clinical Trials Office provides the infrastructure necessary to carry out the large number of active research protocols ongoing within the program. Recent trials launched include the first stem cell trial for chronic spinal cord injury to be conducted in Pennsylvania.

Clinical efforts in traumatic brain injury are conducted in collaboration with research carried out through the Brain Trauma Research Center (BTRC) under the direction of C. Edward Dixon, PhD. The BTRC is a multidisciplinary, multidepartmental research program aimed at improving outcome following severe traumatic brain injury. Research conducted both at the center and at other brain injury research programs clearly demonstrates the potential for improving outcome using therapies designed to treat biochemical derangements that occur following impact to the brain. The BTRC has pioneered efforts using temperature manipulation and cerebral blood flow monitoring in the treatment of severe head injury and has conducted landmark investigations into the mechanisms of induction and recovery of head trauma and secondary injury.

The Pediatric Neurotrauma Center (PNTC) has both basic science and clinical research programs aimed at understanding the pediatric response to neural injury, as well as the unique elements of recovery that are specific to traumatic central nervous system injuries in children. This section coordinates services for injured children at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, which operates the region’s only Level I pediatric trauma center. The goal of the center is to provide optimal care between the time of injury and discharge. Subspecialists in all pediatric medical and surgical disciplines are readily available to provide definitive care. As one of the most established and comprehensive programs in the country, the PNTC has been at the forefront of pediatric neurotrauma research not only locally but also nationally and internationally, serving as an important resource for collaborative programs such as multi-institutional clinical trials designed to improve outcomes, as well as efforts aimed at developing consensus clinical guidelines for the care of children with traumatic neurological injury. Research is progressing at a vigorous pace, with the implementation of several new phase I/II clinical trials, the start of a comparative effectiveness study to discern barriers to implementation of evidence-based guidelines and the continuing support of a T32-training grant in pediatric neurocritical care.