HOUSTON – The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) is currently recruiting participants for several clinical research studies investigating traumatic brain injury (TBI).

TBI is the signature wound of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. An estimated 300,000 Veterans have sustained brain injury from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, usually from exposure to blasts. TBIs vary in severity from mild to moderate to severe. A mild TBI involves brief loss
of consciousness-or a feeling of being “dazed” or confused – and, in some cases, difficulty remembering details about the injury.

“Some Veterans who have experienced a TBI report problems with headaches, memory, attention and concentration, mood swings, and sleep,” said Drew A. Helmer, M.D., M.S., associate director of Research – Prime Care. “If the symptoms are due to brain injury, they are called “post-concussive” symptoms; however, these symptoms may also be related to other conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder – in many cases, these symptoms result from a combination of TBI and PTSD.”

In 2009, the MEDVAMC was 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 (N:N2N) Center of Excellence was created to focus on mild TBI.

“Most Veterans with mild TBI recover fully; but some have longer lasting problems that can interfere with their ability to work or get along with their friends and family,” said Helmer, who is also an assistant professor of Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) and director
of Recruitment and Retention for the N:N2N TBI Research Center.

The Center offers innovative tests to determine when a Veteran’s brain is functioning normally as well as help explain persistent impairments some Veterans may suffer. Participants are interviewed, fill out several questionnaires, and take a few computer-based tests. Some participants are invited to undergo a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan. These tests will assist health care providers in determining how rehabilitation can facilitate recovery.

Some of the tests are similar to computer games and measure a person’s ability to solve problems. They also evaluate short-term memory, ability to interact in a competitive contest, and ability to process information in a timely way. New 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,” said Harvey Levin, Ph.D., N:N2N Center of Excellence director. Levin is also
a professor and the director of research in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at BCM, and was recently selected to serve on the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapy for Traumatic Brain Injury.

Anyone deployed to a combat theater in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), or Operation New Dawn (OND), regardless of their current Veteran or military status is invited to participate in the research study. To learn more about the projects, contact the study coordinator at 832-316-6336, 713-794-7493, or toll-free 1-866-838-2778. Participants will be reimbursed for their time and effort.