Ava Puccio, RN, PhD

Assistant Professor of Neurological Surgery & Nursing
Co-Director, Neurotrauma Clinical Trials Center





Ava M. Puccio, RN, PhD, received her bachelor of science degree at the University of Pittsburgh in 1988 majoring in neuroscience. While working as a laboratory technician for several years, Dr. Puccio pursued a nursing degree and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelor in nursing in 1994, graduating summa cum laude.

Dr. Puccio joined the Department of Neurological Surgery as a nurse coordinator on the National Acute Brain Injury Study: Hypothermia (NABIS:H) study and also the coordinator for the Brain Trauma Research Center in 1995.

Throughout her years of employment as a nurse coordinator, she pursued part-time advanced schooling to graduate with a master’s in nursing from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Dr. Puccio graduated as a university scholar (top 2% of class) from the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing with a doctoral degree, emphasis in neuroscience in 2008. Her dissertation was entitled, ‘Effect of short periods of normobaric hyperoxia on local brain tissue oxygenation and cerebrospinal fluid oxidative stress markers in severe traumatic brain injury,’ and was published in the Journal of Neurotrauma in 2009.

Dr. Puccio was appointed associate scientist at the Safar Center for Resuscitative Research at the University of Pittsburgh upon completion of her doctorate degree in 2008. This was a reflection of her past and continuing collaborations with Patrick Kochanek, MD, C. Edward Dixon, PhD, and Hulya Bayir, MD, as well as multiple critical care Medicine fellows.

Dr. Puccio was appointed research associate in the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh in 2009, and assistant professor in 2010. Dr. Puccio received her adjunct faculty position with The School of Nursing, Department of Acute/Tertiary Care in 2010.

Her research has focused on improving outcomes in traumatic brain injury patients, with clinical venues of controlled normothermia, mechanisms of brain oxygenations and exploring genetic variances and expression on outcome. Dr. Puccio is currently the co-director of the Neurotrauma Clinical Trials Center in collaboration with David O. Okonkwo, MD, PhD.

With 18 years of clinical trial design, involvement and management, several traumatic brain and spine injury research studies have been completed and are ongoing. Many cutting-edge biomarker and high definition fiber tracking imaging, observational research studies are also being conducted.

Dr. Puccio's publications can be reviewed through the National Library of Medicine's publication database.

Board Certifications

RN License: Pennsylvania

Hospital Privileges

UPMC Mercy
UPMC Presbyterian

Professional Organization Membership

Sigma Theta Tau International Nursing Honor Society 
Society of Critical Care Medicine 
National Neurotrauma Society 
Eastern Nursing Research Society 
Women in Neurotrauma Research (WINTR)

Research Activities

The ultimate goal of Dr. Puccio’s career trajectory is to research innovative treatment paradigms for individualized care of TBI patients, with an emphasis on the secondary injury mechanisms following TBI. Mechanisms include temperature management, brain oxygenation optimization and genetic influences including variations and genomic (for example hypoxic signaling). I am currently the PI on a K99/R00 training grant funded through NIH/NINR, titled ‘Transcriptomics in Traumatic Brain Injury: Relationship to Brain Oxygenation and Outcomes’. This funded grant is in Year 2 and is a career plan to develop research skills and training in the area of genomics, with a focus on brain oxygenation in severe traumatic brain injury (sTBI). In addition, Dr. Puccio is interested in investigating the metabolic consequences of a severe TBI through formal calorimetry in association with a biological profile of nutritional state and ultimately, correlation to the neurological outcome of the adult patient following severe TBI.

Current translational studies in pharmacotherapy in TBI patients include a dose-escalation study to evaluate the safety, pharmacokinetics and preliminary evidence of the neuroprotective effect of NNZ-2566 in patients with moderate to severe TBI (GCS 4-12) and also the effect of progesterone (Synapse and ProTECT trials) on the severe TBI patient (David O. Okonkwo, MD, PhD, principal investigator). Another interventional study is the BOOST study, a randomized trial to evaluate the safety of a brain oxygenation treatment with intercranial pressure monitoring versus intercranial pressure monitoring alone.

Additional clinical studies include the prospective collection of demographics, blood and cerebrospinal fluid and neurological outcomes for the Brain Trauma Research Center (PI: C. Edward Dixon, PhD, Clinical Core PI: David O. Okonkwo, MD, PhD) and genetic repositories (severe TBI, PI: Yvette Conley, PhD; moderate/mild TBI co-PI: David O. Okonkwo, MD, PhD). Collaborative research with the University of Cincinnati (PI: Jed Hartings, PhD) examining the impact of brain seizure-like activity (spreading depressions) on recovery from TBI, and with the University of California, San Francisco (PI: Geoff Manley, MD, PhD) examining and refining a standard for data collection in TBI studies, suitable for use across the broad spectrum of TBI and to explore novel approaches for classification of the initial injury severity and outcome after TBI, making use of emerging technology.