Neurodevelopment expert studies influence of traumatic brain injuries on children’s future health

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Neurodevelopment expert studies influence of traumatic brain injuries on children’s future health

Linda Ewing-Cobbs, Ph.D.

HOUSTON-(April 26, 2012) - Annually, more than 8 million children under the age of 17 sustain some physical injury and nearly half a million children sustain traumatic brain injuries. In an effort to address this major pediatric public health concern, a neurodevelopment expert at the Children’s Learning Institute at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) has added a significant new study to her long-term research on the cognitive and psychological effects of pediatric brain injuries.

Linda Ewing-Cobbs, Ph.D., a professor of pediatrics and psychiatry and behavioral sciences, is the principal investigator of a project that examines how traumatic injuries to the brain and other body systems affect children’s stress response systems and how that influences their future health.

This five-year study, funded through a $3 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is a continuation of several studies Ewing-Cobbs and colleagues have conducted on the overall effects of traumatic brain injury on a child’s neurodevelopment.

“Our preliminary studies suggested that major impairment of multiple stress systems persists for years,” said Ewing-Cobbs. “Despite the high occurrence of traumatic stress following injury, the impact of different types of injuries on the limbic-prefrontal, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal, and noradrenergic systems has rarely been studied.”

In this study, Ewing-Cobbs and colleagues are investigating the impact of injury on biomarkers of neurobiological stress response systems in youth ages 8-15 hospitalized for traumatic brain and/or extracranial injuries. In addition, they are examining the degree to which these biomarkers predict post-traumatic changes in cognitive, neurobehavioral and psychological health outcomes. These outcomes include increased attention deficits, post-traumatic stress symptoms, memory dysfunction, inhibition problems, anxiety and depression.

Researchers are currently recruiting 90 children with mild, moderate, or severe traumatic brain injuries, 45 children with extracranial injuries, and 45 healthy children for comparison purposes.  Children with traumatic brain injury and/or extracranial injuries must begin participation in the study within five to seven weeks of their admission to pediatric units at Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital with injuries resulting from motor-vehicle accidents.  Healthy comparison children are being recruited through community notices placed in public areas such as libraries and through advertisements.

Researchers will visit three times with each child participant over the course of one year. All participants are tested for memory, attention and adjustment with their stress levels measured through saliva. Each participant will undergo a MRI of his or her brain at the first and third visits. 

“Understanding relations between neurobiological and psychological responses following pediatric injury will guide development of targeted strategies to improve health-related quality of life,” said Ewing-Cobbs. “This research has the potential to advance both scientific inquiry and clinical care of pediatric injury patients.”

To participate in this study, contact Linda Winzeler at 713-500-3829 or Jane Waugh at 713-500-3858. For more information on this research, visit http://bit.ly/TBIstudy.

Andy Heger
Media Hotline: 713-500-3030