- Associated Press - Monday, January 27, 2014

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) - Brain injury research at the University of Montana has proven so promising that two professors won a $300,000 grant from the National Football League and General Electric Co. to study ways that might help speed the diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injuries in athletes and members of the military.

The Head Health Challenge announced the grants last week to 16 research projects from among more than 400 that applied.

Research by UM assistant professors Sarj Patel and Tom Rau has found that traumatic brain injuries change the level of certain proteins and RNA in the brain.

Tests on brain tissue samples provided by Boston University enabled Patel and Rau to identify biomarkers that were very similar to those they’d found in their research on animals.

“That’s part of what got us the award,” Rau said. “We are far enough along with animals and with humans that we could convince them this was a worthwhile project.”

Under the grant, they will collect blood samples from people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury to determine if changes in the brain chemistry could be detected in the blood.

“It allows us to continue studying the underlying mechanisms that cause changes in the proteins and molecules we’re studying,” Patel said. “It gives us insight into possible intervention, where we may be able to target therapies.”

Patel and Rau have an agreement with St. Patrick Hospital to collect blood samples from emergency room patients. They are also asking UM’s Department of Athletics to see if athletes could be included in the study.

“The award highlights the talent of our young investigators,” said Richard Burgess, Regents Professor and chair of UM’s Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “It also provides graduate and undergraduate students real-world experience in cutting-edge neuroscience research, allowing them the opportunity to participate in the discovery process.”

The Head Health Challenge is part of a four-year, $60 million collaboration between GE and the NFL. It includes a $40 million research and development program to evaluate and develop next-generation imaging technologies to improve diagnosis that would allow for targeting treatment therapy for mild traumatic brain injuries.

Nest year, the program will award $500,000 grants to six of the 16 recipients of this year’s grants. Other projects receiving grants include Johns Hopkins Medical School, the University of California-San Francisco and Weill Cornell Medical College.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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