Traumatic Brain Injury Researchers Make an Impact

Last Updated on May 7, 2014 at 4:33 pm

By Laura L. Acosta

UTEP News Service

After taking a class in injury and violence prevention at the University of Iowa, Chu-Ling Lo, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at The University of Texas at El Paso, developed an interest in brain injury research.

“The class I took discussed the public health approaches to injury prevention,” Lo recalled. “The class helped me understand the implementation and evaluation of effective injury prevention control measures.”

Anthony Salvatore, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences at UTEP, and postdoctoral fellows Chu-Ling Lo, Ph.D., and Kyoung Yuel Lim, Ph.D., are using a transcranial magnetic simulation device to treat concussions. Lo and Lim are participating in a yearlong training program that prepares postdoctoral fellows to conduct TBI research. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service

Anthony Salvatore, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences at UTEP, and postdoctoral fellows Chu-Ling Lo, Ph.D., and Kyoung Yuel Lim, Ph.D., are using a transcranial magnetic simulation device to treat concussions. Lo and Lim are participating in a yearlong training program that prepares postdoctoral fellows to conduct TBI research. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service

Lo’s interest in examining the demographic and psychosocial factors that impact the prevention and recovery of traumatic brain injury (TBI) led her to participate in a new advanced research training project at The University of Texas at El Paso that is preparing the next generation of TBI researchers.

Lo and Kyoung Yuel Lim, Ph.D., are the first two scholars to participate in the training program in UTEP’s Department of Rehabilitation Sciences. The program is designed to train postdoctoral research fellows in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of concussion and mild TBI.

“This project will increase the infrastructure of the University’s research agenda and provide a knowledge base generated by the researchers that the community can apply and develop further in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of TBI,” said Anthony P. Salvatore, Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator and director of the UTEP Concussion Management Clinic.

A TBI is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the body or head or that puts the head in motion and then disrupts the normal function of the brain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1.7 billion TBIs occur in the United States each year.

UTEP’s training program is made possible by a $750,000 grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), which will be used to train six postdoctoral fellows in TBI research over the next five years.

Salvatore, professor and chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, and Timothy N. Tansey, Ph.D., former director of the Master of Rehabilitation Counseling program at UTEP, received the grant in August from the NIDRR’s Minority Serving Institution Advanced Rehabilitation Research Training Projects.

Lo and Lim are learning techniques in rehabilitation counseling, speech-language pathology, public health, sports medicine, clinical laboratory sciences, diagnostic imaging, computer science and kinesiology.

Lo plans to study the effects of concussions on mood and behavior in student athletes in the Anthony Independent School District. She would like to explore if having a concussion has a long-term effect on student athletes’ adjustment to school after the concussion.

“There are many research studies examining the short-term impact of concussion, such as their symptoms or cognitive functions,” Lo explained. “Yet, there are relatively few studies focusing on the long-term effect of concussion.”

According to Lo, retired athletes who have had multiple concussions experience a poor quality of life.

“They are bothered by various symptoms and even depression,” she said. “Therefore, by examining the effects of concussion from different aspects, people would gain more understanding of the severity of the problem and make more effort in the prevention of brain injuries.”

Lim earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh where he was involved in a TBI study that looked at biomarkers to identify patients with TBI.

He is looking forward to collaborating with Salvatore on a study that looks at the effects of transcranial magnetic simulation (TMS) on patients with aphasia, a language disorder that is caused by damage to the brain that results from a stroke, TBI or other head trauma.

The TMS device sends brief magnetic impulses to stimulate function in the brain.

Lim said he plans to use TMS to treat patients with concussion.

“The best we can tell is that no one’s really pursued using TMS with concussed individuals, and so we see that as being another avenue to investigate the impact of a concussion on neurocognitive functioning,” Salvatore said.

Lim would like to work as an independent researcher and train students to use TMS to treat and manage concussions.

Lo plans to pursue a career as a faculty member in the field of rehabilitation counseling and use her research to teach counselors-in-training.

The next postdoctoral fellow is expected to start the program in October. Individuals interested in applying for the fellowship should send a letter of interest to Anthony P. Salvatore at asalvatore@utep.edu.

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