The University of Michigan Concussion Center launched a new campaign for Brain Injury Awareness Month this March to educate U-M community members on the prevalence and impacts of brain injuries. Founded in 2018 under the U-M Bioscience Initiative, the Concussion Center strives to be a leader in concussion research.
Traumatic brain injury — an injury which disrupts normal functions of the brain — can be caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury and has cognitive, behavioral and physical effects. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were approximately 200,000 TBI-related hospitalizations in 2019, not including those that were only treated in the emergency department, primary care, urgent care or those that went untreated.
Concussions are a mild form of TBI, and the most frequent type. Steve Broglio, director of the Michigan Concussion Center, spoke with The Michigan Daily about the challenges of addressing concussions, emphasizing how they can be difficult to detect.
“Concussion is often seen as an invisible injury,” Broglio said. “There’s often no outward sign or symptom that the person tells you about. (It’s important to) recognize that these happen quite frequently.”
Broglio said the Concussion Center has worked to strengthen the connection between clinical findings and research to improve the health outcomes of brain injury survivors.
“We design research projects to answer (clinical) questions, and then we can give that information back to the clinician,” Broglio said. “So it’s really this nice circular pattern that happens, where we’re sharing information back and forth.”
Broglio highlighted a population-based, U-M alumni study investigating neurological outcomes in former athletes and non-athletes that graduated from the University. Broglio said he is excited by the amount of engagement he has observed on this project.
“We have about 1,200 or 1,300 responses,” Broglio said. “What we’re trying to understand are what types of problems people are having, and (are these problems occurring) just because you participated in sports as a student here, or … are these the same problems that everybody that went to Michigan (has)?”
Hoping to promote a positive impact on patient health, Broglio said the Concussion Center aims to collaborate with anyone who is interested in brain injury prevention and mitigation.
“We see ourselves as the hub for concussion activity on campus,” Broglio said. “We are happy to talk to anybody that has an interest in this injury and form partnerships the best we can to try to solve the problem.”
The Brain Injury Association of Michigan, an affiliate of the Brain Injury Association of America, is a nonprofit organization which supports the state of Michigan’s brain injury survivor community. Nichole Shotwell, interim president and CEO of BIAMI, told The Daily the organization provides many educational resources to brain injury survivors, caregivers and professionals, including conferences and monthly webinars. Shotwell said she feels education is critical in improving health outcomes.
“Education could be everything from providing referral and resources … to being an opportunity to lend a listening ear (to the brain injury survivors community),” Shotwell said. “The more that people understand about their health condition, the better their outcomes are.”
Shotwell said the collaboration between BIAMI and the U-M Concussion Center allows the organization to increase its reach and impact.
“We are so fortunate in the state of Michigan to have some tremendous researchers and programs including the Michigan Concussion Center,” Shotwell said. “For us, having the Concussion Center as a resource has been absolutely fantastic.”
Along with conducting research on epilepsy for Michigan Medicine, Rackham student Sophie Hill is also on the volunteer committee for BrainsRule!, an annual, day-long event organized by students and researchers at the University designed to teach middle school students about the brain. Hill told The Daily she believes BrainsRule! has an important community impact, and was excited to see it come to fruition in early March.
“(About) 200 seventh graders came for the day and spent the whole time doing interactive science activities about neuroscience,” Hill said. “We also have one hundred volunteers including undergrads, grad students, faculty and staff and they get to interact with the kids. … It’s a fun day.”
Rackham student Matthew Finneran told The Daily he was inspired to study neuroscience because of his family’s experience with traumatic brain injury.
Finneran’s brother suffered a traumatic brain injury from a car accident when Finneran was a freshman in high school. His brother was treated at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and made a full recovery. Finneran said his brother’s experience made him believe the options for brain injury therapeutics are too finite, motivating him to pursue his career in neuroscience research.
“I had a first-hand experience of how limited my brother’s options were for therapies after his injury,” Finneran said. “That really catapulted me to try to find novel therapeutics that someone like my brother could have had.”
Finneran is now conducting research on molecular mechanisms behind neuroregeneration and therapeutic drug developments for brain injuries.
“It’s kind of a full circle moment being here,” Finneran said. “Every day I come to work, I feel the passion and motivation and really want to try to discover some new knowledge that we didn’t know before that we can hopefully use to help other people down the road.”
Finneran said he believes Brain Injury Awareness Month reminds people to be proactive and support the community of survivors.
“Brain injury is an invisible injury,” Finneran said. “Sometimes people in the community get overlooked or are not as seen as other communities. Brain Injury Awareness Month is a great time to shed light on this community and to show them that they are seen.”
Daily Staff Reporter Jingqi Zhu can be reached at email@example.com