New Florida bank of injured brain tissues will aid nationwide studies of head injuries

University of Florida Brain Institute researchers today announced plans to open a first-of-its-kind bank of human brain tissue to support studies of traumatic brain injury, which affects someone in the United States every 15 seconds.

Brain injury affects more people than stroke or Alzheimer’s and is the leading cause of death in Americans under age 45. Some 5.3 million Americans live with disabilities resulting from head injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

The bank, under the direction of physician and pathology Professor Thomas Eskin, will store samples of brain tissue from victims of brain injury and will serve as a state and national resource for the development of medical and rehabilitative therapies for patients.

Although the date of the bank’s opening is not yet scheduled, researchers are now procuring tissues for it in the same way that organ donation programs encourage people to sign consent cards to have vital organs contributed to medical science upon their death.

The bank is dedicated to traumatic brain injuries and unique in its link with the UF Brain Institute’s powerful new magnetic imaging systems (including an 11.7-tesla imaging magnet) for analyzing tissues. A multidisciplinary research team at the institute is launching new studies aimed at developing effective medical and rehabilitative therapies forindividuals with brain injuries.

“Because so little is understood about the mechanisms by which brain cells are damaged or killed after head injury, there are no standard FDA-approved treatments,” said Ronald Hayes, a professor of neuroscience and neurosurgery who directs UF’s Center for Traumatic Brain Injury Studies. “When an injured person seeks medical care, there is no assurance that the treatment given at one hospital will remotely resemble what would be done at another hospital.

“Having a bank of tissue from people with brain injuries will greatly aid our efforts to gain information that can be applied in patient care, which is our real goal,” Hayes added. “Recent findings, through post-mortem analysis of brain tissue from patients with brain injuries, indicate many of them have the same kinds of brain lesions such as the amyloid plaques found in patients with Alzheimer’s.

Therefore, just as banks of tissue from Alzheimer’s patients have led to greater understanding of this disease, our new tissue bank will help scientists learn more about traumatic brain injury.”

Hayes, who has discovered in rats that biochemical brain damage continues to occur at least a month after traumatic brain injury, said, “The widely varying types of physical and mental impairments associated with such injuries make it tougher to design treatments that will boost chances for recovery.”

People who suffer a head injury may experience impaired ability to think, speak, concentrate and remember. They also may develop seizures, muscle spasms, loss of smell or taste, headaches, fatigue and balance disorders, and/or emotional disturbances such as depression, mood swings, increased agitation and anxiety.

William Luttge, executive director of UF’s Brain Institute, said the new brain bank is “indispensable to our efforts to figure out what happens at the cellular and molecular level, and which genes are activated at the time of brain injury and afterward.

“To speed the process of getting this information, we plan to share the bank and to share what we learn with other scientists, health-care professionals and consumers,” Luttge said. “We’re widening the scope of our work through cooperation with the UF Genetics Institute, the Brain Injury Association of Florida, the state’s Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Program, the national Brain Injury Association, the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Affairs Health System (including a VA-funded Brain Rehabilitation Center in Gainesville), and the Brooks Center for Rehabilitative Studies, which has clinical research programs under way in Gainesville and Jacksonville.”

Thom DeLilla, program administrator for the Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Program of Florida, said UF’s dedication of increased time and resources to this area of research will add value to the state’s annual allocation of $500,000 from the Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Trust Fund to UF for brain and spinal studies.

“I feel very fortunate that the Florida Department of Health’s Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Program has developed a close collaborative relationship with this institute to better address the long-term medical and societal needs of people who have suffered head injuries,” DeLilla said.

In Florida, close to 3,000 people each year suffer head injuries that require hospital care, said Elynor Kazuk, executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Florida, a major support organization for patients and their families. “More research is desperately needed to find effective medical and rehabilitative therapies for survivors of traumatic brain injury, and to translate this into social policy,” Kazuk said.

New UF studies include efforts to identify the genes involved in regulating responses to forceful blows to the head and the brain’s attempt to recover. Researchers plan to track the sequence by which specific genes are activated during and after such injuries.

Studies also are being initiated in animals to determine whether new estrogenlike drugs, previously shown to keep brain cells alive and healthy in rats with Alzheimer’s-type brain lesions, will help protect brain cells after head injury. The compounds were designed by pharmacy researcher James Simpkins and his colleagues at UF’s Center for Drug Discovery.