A Meeting of the Minds

Last month, U-M hosted its inaugural Joyce Massey TBI Summit, which was made possible thanks to the support and generosity of the Joyce and Don Massey Family Foundation. On Friday, September 25 we welcomed leading scientists and key opinion leaders from across the country to present their research and to share their thoughts on the future of TBI research.

For the keynote address, attendees learned about the present and future state of TBI research at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) from its Director Walter Koroshetz, MD. His presentation highlighted critical scientific knowledge gaps for TBI researchers:

  • What is the "dose" required to cause a concussion, post-concussion syndrome or chronic traumatic encephalopathy?
  • How does a concussion affect the brain in the short- and long-term?
  • How can we reliably and objectively detect when the brain is injured and when it is fully recovered?
  • How does the brain recover from TBI? How can we harness discoveries in neuroplasticity to improve recovery?

Dr. Koroshetz also spoke about the importance of "target engagement" in order to advance clinical science, as well as the importance of plotting project milestones to avoid the mirage of a quick cure.

The day was then divided into laboratory science, technology development and clinical science presentations and panel discussions. The unique format of the Summit had the protégées of influential key opinion leaders (KOLs) and U-M research teams deliver 10-minute presentations on their cutting-edge research, followed by a Q&A session. KOLs formed panels, to coincide with the three research categories, to discuss the research and to exchange thoughts on topics including reliable animal TBI models, promising strategies for non-invasive brain monitoring, and the efficacy of using the Glasgow Coma Scale to select patients for TBI clinical trials, to name a few.

The day ended with the highly anticipated $10 million panel question: How would you use $10 million to further TBI research? The panel largely agreed that $10 million was not enough to change the face of TBI, and that it would be best used to provide seed grants to researchers looking to provide proof of concept for grant applications, or to simply allow researchers to explore novel ideas. Other notable ideas included:

  • an XPRIZE-style competition specifically for TBI;
  • investing in coordination and communication between TBI researchers and institutions to aid collaboration;
  • creating TBI advocacy/lobby groups to highlight the need for TBI disease centers, similar to what exists for cardiology and cancer;
  • focusing funding on developing outcome assessments of TBI in order to progress clinical trials.

The KOLs weren't the only ones with some unique ideas on spending the $10 million-when opened up to the floor, the protégées and U-M researchers had some equally impressive thoughts including:

  • investing in a mentoring program for young faculty to become leaders in TBI;
  • bringing together computer programmers, engineers and other fields to develop new technologies;
  • creating a national TBI Society by joining forces with the National Neurotrauma Society.

The KOL panel also touched on navigating industry partnerships, highlighting that researchers need a better understanding of the FDA process in order to attract investment. They also discussed the trend in companies using universities for their research and development, and how researchers can leverage this by charging a fee for study development, and even seek assistance to help pay for expensive clinical trials.

While it was an honor to hear from this impressive group of researchers from across the country, it was also an opportunity for U-M to showcase its contribution to TBI research by highlighting the work we have undertaken so far, thanks to the Massey family, and the exciting projects we have in store. Video recordings of all four panel discussions are forthcoming, so stay tuned.

The next phase of the Massey Foundation TBI Innovation Fund is the Grand Challenge: TBI which will be held in January 2016. The Grand Challenge will fund multidisciplinary teams to develop diagnostic, device, therapeutic, or health information technology solutions that impact severe TBI during the first 48 hours of care.

More detailed information about the Grand Challenge will be available soon.