Brain injuries take center stage with new institute, symposium

By Remekca Owens

Dr. Hunt Batjer, Chairman of Neurological Surgery who also serves as co-chair of the NFL’s Head, Neck, and Spine Committee, helps open the 2014 Paul M. Bass Neurosurgery Symposium on Traumatic Brain Injury.

Supporters for UT Southwestern Medical Center’s new Texas Institute for Brain Injury and Repair come from a wide range of disciplines – professional sports, the military, politics, and biomedical research.

“The new institute brings together diverse members of our community as well as partners in this region and across the country to address one of the great challenges of our society – traumatic brain injury,” said UT Southwestern President Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky at a launch for the state-funded initiative.

Through the institute, UT Southwestern will focus its strengths in basic and translational research on various types of brain injury and conditions, including traumatic brain injury (TBI), stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease. The institute also will promote brain injury education and prevention.

The Texas Legislature was instrumental in making the institute possible, providing $15 million for the current biennium – the largest allocation for a brain injury initiative in state history. Representatives Jim Pitts and Dan Branch – who worked tirelessly to provide the critical state support – also spoke at the launch. The initiative also has drawn strong vocal support from others with an interest in brain injury research, including the National Football League (NFL) and the U.S. Department of Defense.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that brain injuries affect 1.7 million Americans each year, accounting for 30 percent of all injury-related deaths and about $60 billion in medical costs. Most traumatic brain injuries – about 75 percent – are concussions or other forms of mild traumatic brain injury, with sports-related concussions affecting about 3.8 million people in the U.S. annually. 

The new institute, which is a component of the Harold and Annette Simmons Comprehensive Center for Research and Treatment in Brain and Neurological Disorders at UT Southwestern, will take a multidisciplinary approach to brain injury research, involving a number of departments and areas of expertise. This research is intended to translate into better care and more options for patients.

“Although the focus is multifaceted, our primary goal is simple: Use research to revolutionize the recovery and repair of the injured brain. The research breakthroughs we make will be shared broadly, which we believe will lead to new national models for care and help ensure that patients around the country have access to leading-edge treatments,” Dr. Podolsky said.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, sharing the stage with CBS sports anchor and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Babe Laufenberg, makes a point during the 2014 Paul M. Bass Neurosurgery Symposium on Traumatic Brain Injury.

The launch of the institute was followed by the 2014 Paul M. Bass Neurosurgery Symposium on Traumatic Brain Injury. The two-day symposium kicked off with a dinner featuring NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Moderated by CBS sports anchor and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Babe Laufenberg, the conversation explored various topics, including the NFL’s role in providing more safety education for participants of youth sports, the importance of safety in all levels of sports, and UT Southwestern’s leadership in addressing traumatic brain injury.

“We need science and medicine to find the answers to some perplexing issues,” Commissioner Goodell said. “The only way to do that is to have great people and great institutions focused on it. I think the Texas Institute for Brain Injury and Repair is going to generate great solutions.”

The symposium also included presentations on the treatment of military personnel who suffer TBI, the patient perspective provided by former professional athletes, a look at current UT Southwestern research, the development of technology to prevent and manage TBI, and the development of drugs to treat brain injuries.

“I am proud that we were able to follow the official launch of the institute with such a successful event for the medical and non-medical community of Dallas,” said Dr. Babu Welch, Associate Professor of Neurological Surgery and Radiology, and co-chair of the Symposium Program Committee. “TBI is a community problem, and it will take a community to address it.”

The annual neurosurgery symposium is named in honor of Paul M. Bass, Jr., an astute Dallas businessman who also served for 13 years as chairman of the board of Southwestern Medical Foundation. Mr. Bass credited the care he received at UT Southwestern with saving his life after he suffered a stroke in 1983. After his death in 2010, Annette and Harold Simmons made a $2 million donation to establish and endow the Paul M. Bass Center for Neurosurgical Innovation.

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Dr. Podolsky holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science. 

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