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URMC / Clinical & Translational Science Institute / Stories / August 2019 / From Sustaining a Concussion to Conducting Groundbreaking Brain Injury Research

From Sustaining a Concussion to Conducting Groundbreaking Brain Injury Research

Adnan Hirad poses in from of a wall of brain scan images, photo credit: Carnegie Mellon UniversityAs a young boy growing up in Somalia, Adnan Hirad was playing with other children one day when he fell into a ditch and hit his head. People around Adnan didn't know what was wrong with him when he lost consciousness. Some thought he might be possessed. It turns out, he had suffered a concussion.

Adnan didn't give any thought to concussions after that day until years later, when, as a medical student, he attended a presentation about football players and the incidence of concussions by Jeffrey Bazarian, M.D., M.P.H., professor of Emergency Medicine, Neurology, Neurosurgery and  Public Health Sciences at URMC. Reminded of his experience as a boy, Adnan asked about the long-term health effects of a single concussion.

Learning that there isn't enough information to determine long-term prognosis piqued Adnan’s interest. Then an M.D./Ph.D. trainee in the UR CTSI’s Translational Biomedical Sciences PhD Program, he applied for a pilot research grant to find a target region for diagnosing concussive brain injury and to form a prognosis of what happens to the brain after multiple hits to the head. The UR CTSI’s Pilot Studies Program funded the project, which supplemented existing sports concussion research that began in 2013.

The midbrain was identified as the study target area based on: 1) its association to functions affected by a concussion, such as eye movement and sleep; 2) its unique susceptibility to concussive force; and, 3) its relationship to neurodegenerative disease in people who have been hit in the head numerous times, such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) scans were conducted on 38 University of Rochester football players, both before and after three football seasons. The players wore helmet sensors that captured all hits above 10g force sustained during practices and games, the approximate acceleration of a person hopping off a step or plopping down into a chair. Only two of the players had sustained a concussion during the season. DTI captures large amounts of quantitative data about the condition of white matter — the connections to the brain — for each subject. That data must be decoded and interpreted, then correlated to the impact data from the sensors.

Analyzing all the DTI data from the three seasons through the lens of long-term effects of hits to the head was central to Adnan’s research. The UR CTSI pilot grant provided funding for the project, including the resources to build computational architecture needed to conduct the data-intensive analyses.

Read Adnan's recent study published in Science Advances

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The research described above was supported in part by a UR CTSI Pilot Award through the University of Rochester CTSA award number UL1 TR002001 from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health. The UR CTSI Pilot Studies Program provides seed funding for highly innovative research that spans the translational spectrum.

Susanne Pritchard Pallo | 8/7/2019

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