Neurotrauma Research

The Brain Trauma Research Center (BTRC) at the University of Pittsburgh is a multidisciplinary research program aimed at improving outcome following severe traumatic brain injury. Research conducted both at our center and at other brain injury research programs clearly demonstrates the potential for improving outcomes using therapies designed to treat biochemical derangements that occur following impact to the brain. In order to identify the most critical of these sequelae of brain injury and to find newer therapies that are effective in treating them, the BTRC has established several basic science head injury laboratories and clinical research projects. 

C. Edward Dixon, PhD, leads the Department of Neurological Surgery’s efforts in preclinical traumatic brain injury research. The research focuses on basic and translational efforts to study mechanisms of cognitive deficits after TBI and to evaluate novel interventions. Shaun Carlson, PhD, leads efforts on synaptic dysfunction mechanisms of TBI. The Department of Neurological Surgery has pioneered efforts in the study of presynaptic mechanisms of cognitive deficits after TBI. Preclinical TBI research is supported by the National Institutes of Health, Veterans Administration, and the Department of Defense.  

David O. Okonkwo, MD, PhD, leads the department’s clinical research efforts as director of the Neurotrauma Clinical Trials Center (NCTC). The NCTC performs wide-ranging studies, including clinical trials funded by federal agencies and industry to study new therapies, novel brain monitoring devices, advanced neuroimaging, and biomarkers. The center also houses the National TBI Biospecimens Repository. This repository, under the direction of Ava Puccio, RN, PhD, is the largest centralized collection of biological samples from traumatic brain injury patients in the United States.

The NCTC and the National TBI Biospecimens Repository have pioneered efforts in basic and clinical science which have substantially influenced clinical practice, including: 

  1. Evaluating the clinical utility of point-of-care assessment platforms for blood biomarkers of TBI; 
  2. Applying machine learning techniques to computed tomography scans to predict outcomes for severe TBI patients;
  3. Establish the sensitivity and clinical utility of magnetoencephalography to image brain injury; and
  4. Assess the viability of hypothermia as a treatment of severe head injury.

The NCTC continues to play a pivotal role in large collaborative efforts, such as Transforming Research and Clinical Knowledge in TBI (TRACK-TBI), a multi-center study funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders at the NIH. The department is a key contributor to the next generation of TRACK-TBI studies, which seeks to improve the treatment and long-term outcomes of patients with TBI. 

The NCTC is also actively enrolling research participants to examine the potential effects of repeated head impacts and/or TBIs on long-term neurological health. The goal of this research is to identify clinical, advanced imaging, and blood biomarker correlates for mild cognitive impairment.