CINCINNATI –Finding new ways to identify, measure, and treat mild traumatic brain injuries is the focus of three new pilot grants awarded by the Mayfield Education & Research Foundation to post-graduate researchers at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

Mild traumatic brain injuries suffered by military personnel and athletes have become a growing source of concern within the medical community and for society at large as the short- and long-term effects of concussions become better understood. In the United States alone, more than 1.7 million people seek urgent medical care for traumatic brain injuries annually. At present there is no known medical treatment for mild traumatic brain injury.

The pilot grants, which total $28,500, were awarded to:

Benjamin Bixenmann, MD, Medical Resident, Department of Neurosurgery

Yair M. Gozal, MD, PhD, Medical Resident, Department of Neurosurgery

Kristine Sonstrom, MS, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders

The three scientists will conduct their research projects under the mentorship of Norberto Andaluz, MD, Director of Neurotrauma at the UC Neuroscience Institute and a Mayfield Clinic neurosurgeon.

"In the area of traumatic brain injury, there has been a great deal of interest with the NFL injuries and young men and women coming home from war with wounds that go much deeper than they might appear," Dr. Andaluz says.

"We have identified some things that, in the past, were disregarded as depression, or a lack of motivation, and understand now that these are real problems and if left untreated, will linger and worsen. So, collectively, our first goal is to characterize these injuries, as they are still so poorly understood. And then once we have correctly assessed them, we can test, develop, and implement early interventions to prevent this sustained damage."

The three Mayfield Foundation grants are initial explorations into areas of research that could quickly lead to new discoveries, Dr. Andaluz says.

Benjamin Bixenmann, MD

First, Identify

Grant amount: $11,500

Dr. Bixenmann is testing a new method of sideline and follow-up testing for concussion, using a retinal scanner to measure changes to the thickness of an athlete's retina. Such technology could confirm in less than 10 seconds whether an athlete has sustained a concussion. Follow-up measurements could definitively determine when the athlete is ready to return to play.

Yair Gozal, MD

Next, Assess Severity and Vulnerability

Grant amount: $8,000

Because traumatic brain injuries differ widely in severity and symptoms, it is often difficult to determine which patients might have suffered additional brain damage or are vulnerable to secondary trauma while under observation or after being released from the hospital. Dr. Gozal is working to identify and codify the many differing demographic or injury characteristics of trauma patients that could be used to identify at-risk patients who might benefit from additional clinical testing, monitoring, or intervention.

Kristine Sonstrom, MS

Finally, Identify and Treat Complications

Grant amount: $9,000

In addition to the visual changes being studied by Dr. Bixenmann, Ms. Sonstrom's research will focus on potential damage to the central auditory nervous system. While peripheral, or normal, hearing may appear intact, patients can suffer from trauma-induced damage to the auditory pathways. Such damage can result in auditory processing problems that can be treated with proper interventions.

Dr. Andaluz says the Mayfield Foundation's pilot grants are "pillars for good scientific data, giving us the evidence we need to seek major funding from the National Institutes of Health or Department of Defense for the development of large-scale studies."

About the Mayfield Education & Research Foundation

The Mayfield Education & Research Foundation exists to advance the care of patients with brain and spine disorders through leading-edge education and research. The Mayfield Education & Research Foundation supports and sustains the legacy of the Mayfield Clinic by promoting innovative research and development alongside accessible, relevant education for physicians, residents, and fellows, patients and their families, and the community at large. Established in 1978, for thirty years the Foundation supported the research and education of local physicians and residents with modest grants. The innovative, ground-breaking research supported by the Mayfield Education & Research Foundation can have enormous implications on how patients are treated for some of the deadliest and most life-altering diseases and disorders. The Foundation is particularly supportive of research that is collaborative across specialties, utilizes new technologies, and/or offers opportunities for experienced neurosurgeons to mentor new physicians and scientists.