Physicians Hall Front

Innovative study could alter way clinicians treat concussion patients

Milwaukee, July 5, 2017 - Whether suffered by an athlete on the field or non-athlete at home, mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBIs), including concussions, are typically measured by using a checklist of symptoms. But, according to Lindsay Nelson, PhD, clinical neuropsychologist and assistant professor of Neurosurgery and Neurology at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), athletes and civilians, and likely, men and women, suffer different types of mTBI, often varying by type of impact and severity level. The resulting problem is that the current measurement system tends to treat all mTBIs the same and thereby hampers a medical professional's ability to measure patient-specific experiences and create personalized treatment models.

"The field is coming to an understanding that in order to do better research we need to account for all the variability," Nelson said.

Nelson is the principal investigator for "Clinical Phenotyping of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI)," a research project she hopes will help create a novel approach to clinically classifying patients with mTBI, which could help clinicians more effectively treat the highly prevalent and costly injury.

Nelson, recently awarded a two-year $167,000 grant from National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to fund the study, said the project became possible due to a large influx of new data available on mTBI. Some of which is from Project Head to Head, a MCW-led research study on concussion and head impact exposure, which has collected data on more than 2,000 local athletes. Additional data sets from the multi-center Concussion Assessment, Research and Education (CARE) Consortium, and the TRACK-TBI study led by the University of California-San Francisco, will also be utilized for the research. Mark Kramer, PhD, Research Associate, School of Social Work, University of Texas-Austin, will be co-investigator for the project.

In addition to examining differences in mTBIs of athletes and civilians, another innovative aspect of the project is that researchers will investigate the injuries based on sex or gender, according to Nelson.

"Most of the literature in sport-related injuries is focused on males so we don’t know enough about whether females present with different symptoms or recover differently," she added.

Identifying differences between patients by examining specific injuries and biological data including blood will help Nelson, Kramer and other supporting researchers learn more about patients from a neuropsychological standpoint, which could result in more effective treatment.

"Ultimately, through this study, we’re hoping to identify a useful way to stratify mTBI patient groups so that down the road we can develop more effective, patient-tailored treatments," Nelson said.

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