Nearly $13 million in federal grant funds to study treatments for traumatic brain injury, which kills an average of 190 people and hospitalizes another 600 in the U.S. every day, has been awarded to the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth Houston) by the Department of Defense’s Office of Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP).
The funding marks a positive step forward for patients suffering from the medical condition, says Charles S. Cox Jr., MD, the George and Cynthia Mitchell Distinguished Chair in Neurosciences and the Glassell Family Distinguished Chair in the Department of Pediatric Surgery with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, and a member of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Houston School of Biomedical Sciences.
“There aren’t any effective treatments for patients with traumatic brain injury – there’s no drug you can take or operation you can have,” says Cox, lead investigator of the grants and professor of pediatric surgery with McGovern Medical School. “These grants represent one of the more promising steps toward developing these types of trials for finding new treatments.”
A four-year, $7.7 million grant will fund four research projects that aim to address the challenges of treating the hemorrhagic shock-induced exacerbation of traumatic brain injury. Hemorrhagic shock occurs when severe blood loss leads to inadequate oxygen delivery at the cellular level.
The Focused Program Award will be executed within the Center for Translational Injury Research (CeTIR) in the Department of Surgery at McGovern Medical School. Erin Fox, PhD, assistant director of CeTIR, leads the Program Core.
The first project, led by Jessica Cardenas, PhD, will investigate the role that fragments of fibrin and fibrinogen – proteins present in blood plasma – play in the disruption of the blood-brain barrier during traumatic brain injury and hemorrhagic shock. Another project, led by Cox and CeTIR director Charles E. Wade, PhD, will assess how the hemorrhagic shock-induced breakdown of fibrin in blood clots amplifies brain swelling after traumatic brain injury. The third, led by Brijesh “Billy” Gill, MD, will analyze platelet contractile dysfunction of hemorrhagic shock and traumatic brain injury, and the final project, led by Jenifer Juranek, PhD, will measure brain swelling and blood-brain barrier permeability in traumatic brain injury and/or hemorrhagic shock patients.
Within the Department of Surgery, Fox is an associate professor, Cardenas is an assistant professor, and Gill is a professor. Wade is a professor and the James H. “Red” Duke Jr., MD, Distinguished Professor in Surgery. Juranek is an associate professor in the Department of Pediatric Surgery.
Meanwhile, a four-year, nearly $5 million grant is intended to fund Phase II of a stem cell clinical trial that began in 2019. The second phase of the study is slated to begin in September at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, pending approval from UTHealth Houston’s Internal Review Board.
The study is evaluating whether intravenously infused, adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells produced by Hope Biosciences reduce the chronic neuroinflammatory response to traumatic brain injury. Phase I of the study showed that the infusions offered a potential benefit to patients.
“Because it’s the second phase of a three-step process, enrolling more patients at more centers becomes pivotal,” Cox says, noting the goal is to enroll 50 patients.
Cox directs the Pediatric Translational Laboratories and Pediatric Program in Regenerative Medicine at UTHealth Houston. The program aims to address problems that originate with traumatic injury and the consequences of resuscitation and critical care, focusing on stem cell therapy for traumatic brain injury and related neurological injuries.