Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Houston VA Receives $5 Million Grant to Study and Treat Traumatic Brain Injury

June 30, 2009

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The “Neurorehabilitation: Neurons to Networks Center of Excellence” will offer innovative tests that determine when a Veteran’s brain is functioning normally as well as help explain persistent impairments some Veterans may suffer. The tests will assist health care providers in determining how rehabilitation can facilitate recovery. Army Veteran Xavier Negrete, who suffered a traumatic brain injury, chats with his Occupational Therapist Tracey Kessel, OTR.

 

HOUSTON – The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) has been awarded a five-year $5 million grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Research and Development to establish a new VA Rehabilitation Research Center of Excellence focusing on mild to moderate traumatic brain injury.

The “Neurorehabilitation: Neurons to Networks Center of Excellence” will offer innovative tests that determine when a Veteran’s brain is functioning normally as well as help explain persistent impairments some Veterans may suffer. The tests will assist health care providers in determining how rehabilitation can facilitate recovery.

“I am ecstatic the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center was awarded this grant,” said Blase A. Carabello, M.D., F.A.C.C., acting MEDVAMC director. “It speaks volumes about our staff, our research and mental health programs, and our efforts to provide the best possible health care to Veterans in southeast Texas. The knowledge gained through this Center’s work will benefit Veterans and the community for years to come.”

The new Center addresses an increasingly serious issue in the VA and the nation. An estimated 300,000 Veterans have sustained brain injury from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The MEDVAMC provides care to approximately 10 returning Veterans each day, one of the largest groups of returning Veterans in the nation.

As many as 15 percent of returning Veterans have experienced some type of traumatic brain injury from explosions and blasts. If they lost consciousness for only a few minutes, their injuries are classified as mild to moderate. Many recover fully, but some have residual problems that interfere with their ability to work or adjust to life with their families and community.

Fifteen clinicians and scientists at the MEDVAMC have assembled new and diverse approaches to study traumatic brain injury. They use tests similar to computer games to measure a person’s ability to solve problems. These tests also evaluate short-term memory, ability to interact in a competitive contest, and ability to process information in a timely way. New Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) tests look at the delicate connecting structures in the brain that may be disrupted by exposure to a blast, and how the brain makes decisions. Still other tests evaluate how well a Veteran can reintegrate into day-to-day routines and family life after returning from active duty.

These new tests may identify subtle injuries not detected by current clinical tests.  Better understanding of brain function means rehabilitation strategies can be customized for the individual.

As part of its rehabilitation efforts, the Center will host “Mending Minds Weekends - Making the Invisible Visible” for Veterans and their spouses.  In addition to brain tests, the couples will take part in educational sessions for achieving success in the workplace or school, and discussions about the effects of traumatic brain injury on relationships.

State-of-the-art interventions including treatments involving virtual reality and a new technology known as functional MRI-based neurobiofeedback will be offered to Veterans with traumatic brain injury.

“There are a great many advanced treatment options for traumatic brain injury on the horizon. The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center constantly strives to open new doors and make these alternatives available for our Veterans,” said J. Kalavar, M.D., MEDVAMC chief of staff.

The “Neurorehabilitation: Neurons to Networks Center of Excellence” is under the direction of Harvey Levin, Ph.D., research psychologist and Kimberly A. Arlinghaus, M.D., Mental Health Care Line deputy executive. Levin is a well known researcher in traumatic brain injury and also a professor and the director of research in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM). Arlinghaus is also an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science, physical medicine, and rehabilitation at BCM with more than 20 years of clinical and educational experience in the field of traumatic brain injury.

The Center brings together researchers from the MEDVAMC, the Departments of Neuroscience, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Molecular and Human Genetics at BCM, and the University of Houston.

This Center is the second VA-funded Research Center of Excellence at the MEDVAMC. The Houston Center for Quality of Care and Utilization Studies is a VA-funded Research Center of Excellence. MEDVAMC is also home to a VA Quality Enhancement Research Initiative in Substance Use Disorders, a Mental Illness Research and Clinical Care Center, and a Parkinson’s Disease Research and Clinical Care Center.

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