Last month, researchers from across U-M came together to hear from the nation’s leaders in traumatic brain injury (TBI) at MCIRCC’s Massey TBI Grand Challenge. The event kicked-off the competition, which funds innovative solutions that address the golden hours of care after severe TBI.

The Center for Disease Control estimates that 2.5 million children and adults sustain TBIs in the U.S. each year, making it a major cause of death and disability that can have severe and lasting effects on individuals, families, and communities. Thankfully, the Joyce and Don Massey Family Foundation is helping to develop solutions that can help limit the impact of TBI with their generous donation that funds Grand Challenge projects.

Teams that submit to the Grand Challenge are eligible to win up to $600,000 of funding to take their idea from research to commercialization in hopes of developing a life-saving diagnostic, device, therapeutic, or health IT solution. To kick off the ideas for this year, we had an impressive and compelling lineup of speakers and activities that led to a very successful event.

After welcoming remarks from Robert Neumar, MD, PhD, and Marschall Runge, MD, PhD, attendees were able to learn what makes the Grand Challenge event so personal to the Massey family. Brenda Massey, the president of the Joyce and Don Massey Family Foundation, shared her powerful story of seeing her mother live with the devastating effects of a TBI and how the Grand Challenge teams will be able to help other families affected by TBI.

The keynote speaker, Geoffrey Ling, MD, PhD, presented the current challenges to TBI diagnosis and treatment, and also discussed the tough decisions doctors have to make when evaluating a TBI patient.

Department of Defense (DOD) service members and families represent the largest U.S. population suffering from the impact of TBI. There to speak to this issue was Tammy Crowder, PhD, Neurotrauma Research Portfolio Manager, who discussed the Combat Casualty Care Research Program, neurotrauma scope and purpose, and what drives DoD investment.

Attendees were also able to get the gripping perspective of first responder, Marc DePasquale, 18D, NREMT, who went through a day in the life of a military paramedic. He was able to illustrate the difficulty paramedics face in the field especially in terms of the resources and medical tools available to them in dire situations. Survival Flight responders took us through the challenges of treating TBI patients while racing through the skies. In particular, they discussed the difficulties of monitoring intracranial pressure in the field as well as looking towards the future with nanobot diagnostic technology.

In the afternoon, former U-M Men’s Basketball player Austin Hatch shared his emotional story of surviving two plane accidents that took the lives of his parents’, his trying road to recovery, and his new outlook on life as a result of his miraculous outcome. His discussion put things into perspective as to why the Grand Challenge is so important in developing new and innovative solutions for TBI patients.

The main takeaway from this year’s event is that TBI is indeed a widespread problem that impacts both stateside civilians and servicemen and women overseas, and that no idea is too early or too novel for the Grand Challenge. Presentations from previous Grand Challenge winners highlighted this notion, especially Rodney Daniels, MD’s Digital EVD and ICP monitor that began as a sketch on a napkin.

The next Grand Challenge event will take place in May when we host the Pitch Day competition for all of the submitted entries.