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University of Pittsburgh

November 21, 2012

Med school dept. gets TBI grant

The School of Medicine’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) has been awarded a multi-year grant that distinguishes the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute as a model system of care for traumatic brain injury (TBI) — joining its designation as a model system for spinal cord injury (SCI).

This designation, bestowed by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), comes as part of a five-year, $2.15 million grant that connects Pitt and UPMC to a network of 15 other TBI model system sites across the United States. The model systems programs aim to attain excellence in patient care, promote scientific research to improve outcomes and enrich the lives of individuals with disabilities. By adding TBI, Pitt along with the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute and the UPMC Centers for Rehab Services can build upon their existing efforts to improve support and care for patients with disabilities in the community and beyond.

Amy Wagner, PM&R vice chair of research, said: “This gives us further opportunities to showcase the incredible wealth of scientific and medical talent that we have in Pittsburgh regarding the care of individuals with TBI, and to participate nationally with other experts who are continuously working to improve the available treatments.”

TBI is the leading cause of death and persistent disability across the globe due to falls, car accidents and more. Recovery varies widely depending upon the severity and type of injury, among other factors. Each model system award is based on the center’s ability to conduct cutting-edge clinical research, as well as to provide multidisciplinary rehabilitation over the entire course of patients’ recovery — from the time they arrive at a hospital for emergency care, during inpatient rehabilitation, and as they work to return to the community.

Federal guidelines require each center to participate in locally and nationally collaborative research projects, often in such NIDRR areas of emphasis as employment, health/function, independent living and community integration.Patients at the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute will have the opportunity to participate in such projects as well as take part in a national model systems database that has collected data about injury, recovery and outcomes of individuals with TBI since 1987. This database currently stores information from more than 10,000 patients.

Only two of the nation’s top-10 hospitals as ranked by U.S. News & World Report this year, No. 1 Massachusetts General and No. 10 UPMC, contain both TBI and SCI model systems.

Wagner will serve as the UPMC TBI model system director and fellow PM&R faculty members Joseph Ricker  and Patricia Arenth  will co-direct components of the project.  Wagner will use her internationally recognized biomarker research in TBI as part of the local study within the TBI model systems grant. This research will focus on “personalized medicine” by examining biological and genetic profiles of patients, in addition to other social, functional and cognitive factors, to determine how individual characteristics and experiences might impact each person’s recovery.

Wagner added: “At Pitt, we have developed a program that we call ‘Rehabilomics.’ Our goal is to learn about the ‘whole picture’ of how a person is affected by an injury, such as TBI, and to understand how we can help each individual return to their highest level of functioning possible. We are in an amazing position to do this, because within our system we have so many scientists who can understand the genetic and biological impact of injury at the cellular level, experts in acute and long-term medical care and therapy, and scientists studying TBI via neuroimaging, cognitive and psychological methods. In addition, we have community partnerships which will allow us to share what we learn directly with individuals and families impacted by TBI.”

Filed under: Feature, Volume 45 Issue 7

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