Duke Joins $9.25M Project to Understand Concussion and Improve Recovery

May 19, 2017

Project focuses on the underlying cellular mechanisms of concussion

A look at the cellular difference between brain cells involved in a severe concussion (left) versus a minor concussion (right).

A look at the cellular difference between brain cells involved in a severe concussion (left) versus a minor concussion (right).

The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation announced today that it has awarded a $9.25 million grant to study the underlying mechanisms of concussion and help uncover potential clinical interventions that could improve recovery. The project will be led by the University of Pennsylvania, with support from Duke University and Columbia University.

There is a surprising lack of understanding of the cellular mechanisms involved in concussions. The new grant aims to provide better data and research on this area, which will be made openly available to the scientific community. Instead of viewing concussions as stemming from a single mechanism, this work will uncover how cellular events combine and influence concussion recovery pathways.

The interdisciplinary project takes a comprehensive and data-driven look at what happens to the brain during and after concussion, with the potential to transform fields of research and clinical care of brain injury. The researchers believe that, if successful, the project could bring a paradigm shift to understanding traumatic brain injuries, leading to more effective methods of preventing and treating concussions.

Cameron “This project addresses an area of immense societal importance and growing concern, especially for kids and adults playing sports, the elderly and our military,” said Cameron R. “Dale” Bass, associate research professor of biomedical engineering at Duke University. “This project will substantially improve our fundamental understanding of both the effects of injury and the long term effects of recovery.”

The goal of the project is to understand the nature of concussions by taking a network approach that looks at concussion’s impact across many scales in the brain, including neural circuit connectivity, multiple cell types, blood flow and the importance of the blood-brain barrier. 

Duke’s role in the project will be to investigate interactions between cellular response to impacts leading to traumatic brain injury and the response of the brain and body as repair processes begin. Joining Bass in Duke’s efforts will be Mohammed Abou Donia, professor of pharmacology and cancer biology and neurobiology.

“In particular, we hope to decipher how the brain can re-route signals to bring its network back on line after a concussion,” said project co-leader Douglas H. Smith, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair and the Robert A. Groff professor of Neurosurgery in the Perelman School of Medicine.

The research team will combine studies in living systems with data-driven approaches that will provide insight into mechanisms of damage associated with concussion, as well as what leads to successful brain repair. Because individual cases of concussion vary so widely, capturing data at the level of cells, circuits, blood flow and metabolism will help to make sense of the concussion’s diverse outcomes and help uncover potential clinical interventions to improve recovery.

“We are thrilled to be the recipients of this grant and to have the resources to address the fundamentals of concussion science in a new way,” said project co-leader David F. Meaney, the Solomon R. Pollack professor and chair of Bioengineering in the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. “We have assembled a diverse team of experts in many fields across several academic institutions to take a comprehensive approach to the problem, and are very grateful for the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation’s bold vision to accelerate concussion science and treatment.”