Ava Puccio, RN, PhD

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

Ava Puccio




Ava M. Puccio, RN, PhD, received her bachelor of science degree in neuroscience in 1988 and bachelor degree in nuring in 1994, both from the University of Pittsburgh. In 1995, she 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.

Throughout her years of employment as a nurse coordinator, she pursued part-time advanced schooling to graduate with a master’s degree in nursing from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000 and 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, “Effect of short periods of normobaric hyperoxia on local brain tissue oxygenation and cerebrospinal fluid oxidative stress markers in severe traumatic brain injury” 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. 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. She was promoted to assistant professor in 2010 and was granted tenure-track in 2013. Dr. Puccio received her adjunct faculty position with The School of Nursing, Department of Acute/Tertiary Care in 2010 with collaborations with Yvette Conley, PhD and Richard Henker, RN, PhD.

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 19 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.

Specialized Areas of Interest

Dr. Puccio’s specialized areas of interest are exploring secondary injury mechanisms following traumatic brain injury to improve neurological outcomes in mild, moderate and severe traumatic brain injury patients. Focused mechanisms include use of controlled normothermia and hypothermia, brain oxygenation, genetic expression and variances and clinical studies of pharmacotherapy in TBI patients.

Board Certifications

RN License: Pennsylvania

Hospital Privileges

UPMC Mercy
UPMC Presbyterian

Professional Organization Membership

Eastern Nursing Research Society
National Neurotrauma Society
Neurocritical Care Society
Sigma Theta Tau International Nursing Honor Society
Society of Critical Care Medicine
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). Dr. Puccio is 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 completed 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 glyburide (InTRUST trial) on the TBI patient (David O. Okonkwo, MD, PhD, principal investigator). Another interventional study is the HOPES study, a randomized trial to evaluate the effect of hypothermia on TBI patients requiring an emergent craniotomy for a subdural hematoma evacuation.

Additional clinical studies include the prospective collection of demographics, blood and cerebrospinal fluid and neurological outcomes for the Neurotrauma Clinical Trials Center (PI: David O. Okonkwo, MD, PhD; Co-PI: Dr. Puccio) and genetic repositories (severe TBI, PI: Yvette Conley, PhD; moderate/mild TBI 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. 

Current Department of Defense (DoD) funded projects investigating High Definition Fiber Tracking (HDFT) MRI technology in the civilian and military populations to correlate neuropsychological deficits and track damage for acute/chronic blunt and blast traumatic brain injury, as well as chronic traumatic encephalopathy are in collaboration with David O. Okonkwo, MD, PhD and Walter Schneider, PhD.