VCU gets $62 million to study military brain injuries

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Commonwealth University has been awarded a $62 million federal grant to oversee a national research consortium of universities, hospitals and clinics that will study what happens to service members and veterans who suffer mild traumatic brain injuries or concussions, the White House has announced.

The concussions that will be studied include both combat injuries, such as those from blasts and bullets, and civilian injuries, such as those from car accidents, sports injuries and falls.

The researchers involved in the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs grant have been studying brain injuries and working with Veterans Health Administration hospitals, including Richmond's Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center, the military and universities for many years. They now will share their knowledge and work toward solutions for traumatic brain injuries.

The principal investigator on the grant is David X. Cifu, M.D., chair of the VCU School of Medicine’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and executive director of VCU's Center of Researcher Sciences and Engineering.

“This project is specifically designed to develop an understanding of the linkage between concussion/blast exposures and chronic effects, comorbidities and neurodegeneration in service members and veterans with combat-related TBI exposure,” Cifu said. “The project will also assist in providing current and future care, guide the development of novel interventions to prevent or mitigate cognitive and behavioral decline and contribute to long-term planning for service member and veteran needs and benefits.”

This is the second particularly large grant that VCU has received in recent years. In 2010, VCU received a $20 million grant – until now, the largest federal award in its history – from the National Institutes of Health to become part of a nationwide consortium of research institutions working to turn laboratory discoveries into treatments for patients.

“We recognize that an award of this magnitude only results from the research excellence that is fostered and encouraged across VCU," said VCU President Michael Rao.

The members in the TBI consortium will study groups of veterans who have been injured in prior wars, such as in Korea and Vietnam, in more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in car accidents, sports and falls in the United States.

The overall award is the Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium, but the CENC that Cifu will head up for the consortium is the Military and Veterans Injury Recovery and Rehabilitation Network, or MAVERICK.

"The magnitude of traumatic brain injury research at VCU, and all the neurosciences for that matter, has laid the groundwork for a grant like this," said Sheldon Retchin, M.D., senior vice president of VCU Health Sciences and CEO of the VCU Health System. "The research across the rehabilitation medicine spectrum, particularly as it relates to traumatic brain injuries and military personnel, was the springboard to this research grant.

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