Boosting traumatic brain injury research at Michigan

Massey Foundation TBI Grand Challenge paves the way to saving lives and improving outcomes for those who suffer traumatic brain injuries.

Last month, MCIRCC launched its first ever Massey Foundation TBI Grand Challenge, with the goal of funding integrated science teams to develop innovative solutions to improve outcomes after severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) diagnosis.

TBI is considered to be the most complex disease in the most complex organ, affecting the lives of millions of people around the world each year. Thanks to a generous gift from the Joyce and Don Massey Family Foundation, $500,000 of funding will be allocated to teams so they can develop diagnostic, device, therapeutic, or health information technology solutions for severe TBI.

Nearly 100 faculty and staff members attended the two-day Grand Challenge event where they had the opportunity to hear from MCIRCC’s Department of Defense (DoD) partners, a first-responder in the civilian setting, and other U-M faculty and staff.

Col Rasmussen, MD FACS, Director of the Combat Casualty Care Research Program (CCCRP), spoke about the real-world challenges in the field and the “golden hour” of care. He emphasized the importance of the Joint Trauma System which aims to get the “right patient to the right place, for the right treatment at the right time” and its impact on improving outcomes for TBI patients.

He also spoke about the timeliness of the DoD’s collaboration with MCIRCC, with data indicating that trauma and injury are the leading causes of death for Americans aged 1-45. Civilian trauma deaths have also increased at twice the rate of population growth during the decade of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Although moderate to severe TBI will remain a reality of combat operations, Col Rasmussen was hopeful that leveraging the best of civilian academia, private foundations and elements of DoD priorities and processes would provide the best, and most efficient, opportunity for advancement in diagnosing and treating severe TBI.

Attendees also heard from Tammy Crowder, PhD, Neurotrauma Research Portfolio Manager about CCCRP’s strategic vision, neurotrauma scope and purpose, and what drives DoD investment. She also reviewed past and present neurotrauma research and provided an overview of TBI basics.

Sergeant First Class (SFC) Joe Cicchillo offered an insight into the practical implications of diagnosing and treating TBI in austere conditions as he relayed his first-hand experience in the field. The challenges faced by medics are amplified by the fact that resources only allow for one medic per Platoon (30 soldiers) and three medics per Company (100-200 soldiers).

Currently, the Medic Aid Bag consists of very few items such as tourniquets, tape, a cervical collar, gauze bandages, blood pressure cuff, limited drugs and a pulse oximeter if they are lucky. With such limited supplies, SFC Cicchillo emphasized the need for a tool that could help medics triage soldiers at the point of injury, and that this tool must be compact and portable.

SFC Cicchillo also pointed out that there are other considerations including durability in extreme weather conditions, cost-effectiveness so that all units can afford to purchase three products per medic, and that it is easily re-supplied for use on the next soldier.

On the last day of the event, attendees had the honor of hearing from Retired Army Sergeant Ted Wade and his wife Sarah Wade. While deployed in Iraq in 2004, Ted suffered multiple life-threatening wounds, including a TBI, which changed his life forever. Ted and Sarah provided a powerful reminder of the devastating effects that TBI can have not only on the patient, but also their family and friends—an experience that the Massey Foundation is all too familiar with and what prompted the collaboration between their Foundation and U-M.

The overwhelming takeaway from the Grand Challenge event was that there is clearly an urgent need for novel and effective therapies to treat TBI patients in both the military and civilian setting. Our U-M researchers left with a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by healthcare providers when diagnosing and treating TBI, as well as how the Grand Challenge format can help them accelerate their innovative research to produce solutions that will revolutionize the treatment of TBI during the early hours of care.

During the next stage of the competition, several teams who submitted two-page proposals will be invited to submit a 10-page proposal outlining their detailed research plan. These teams will then pitch their research idea to a panel of experts who will identify the teams they believe should be selected for funding.

Click here to view the presentations from the Grand Challenge.

Click here to listen to an audio recording of Col. Rasmussen’s presentation.

Click here to learn more about Ted and Sarah Wades’ story.