UPMC, Pitt, CMU collaborate on brain disorder study

Kris B. Mamula: kmamula@post-gazette.com
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, UPMC and Carnegie Mellon University are putting together a study of degenerative brain disorders that have been linked to head injuries, the first project of its kind among the institutions and among the first in the country to use a novel tool in the search for treatments.

UPMC’s Brain Trauma Research Center, Pitt’s Department of Critical Care Medicine and Drug Discovery Institute, and CMU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering are preparing to study treatments for traumatic brain injuries — including chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease that has been related to playing football and other contact sports.

The study is being undertaken for humanitarian reasons while a search for project funding continues, researchers said.

“One of the things that has been very challenging in head injuries is finding new therapies,” said Patrick Kochanek, a physician and vice chairman of the critical care medicine department at Pitt. “The cool thing is bringing together all of the resources in Pittsburgh.” The study is in the “very early developmental stages,” Dr. Kochanek said.

Dietary supplements, prescription antidepressants and hyperbaric oxygen are among a wide variety of remedies now used to treat head injuries sustained while playing contact sports. But nothing has been proven to work for concussions, the common cold of head injuries, according to a search of the medical literature between 1955 and 2012 by the American Academy of Neurology.

The search was done for a summary of evidence-based concussion treatments by the Minneapolis-based trade association for doctors who specialize in treating brain and nervous systems disorders.