National Institutes of Health Grant Funds Research on Therapeutic Intervention for Brain Injuries

Eastern Kentucky University has the lead role in a National Institutes of Health-funded initiative to research therapeutic treatment for those who have suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Approximately 10 million people worldwide suffer from TBI, for which there is currently no therapeutic intervention. Especially in rural areas, where the time of transport to a hospital can be lengthy, the use of a neuroprotective agent such as gamma glutamylcysteine ethyl ester (GCEE) could be invaluable in cases of moderate TBI, according to Dr. Tanea Reed, assistant professor of chemistry at EKU and principal investigator for the three-year, $394,000 NIH grant. Also, brain injuries commonly occur in military combat.

“There is no known cure for traumatic brain injury,” Reed said. “However, immediate medical attention after an incident is most beneficial for patient recovery. Since TBI is a sudden injury, post-therapeutic strategies are the only viable approach to therapy.

“Preliminary data show a significant reduction in oxidative stress levels when GCEE is administered 10 minutes post TBI,” Reed said, adding that early management of injury is the best preventative measure of progressive secondary injury.

Reed and her fellow researchers will investigate a potential glutathione (GSH)-based therapeutic at several time points to determine the best course of protection against secondary TBI injury.

In addition to increasing scientific knowledge in the field of TBI research, Reed said the project would enhance the research environment for EKU students -- two graduate students and six undergraduate students will assist in the research -- and better enable students from Kentucky, a “traditionally underrepresented” state in biomedical sciences, to advance in biomedical programs.

“It’s a real benefit, especially for the undergraduates, to be able to work on a research project with real-world applications and see the end goal of what they’re trying to achieve,” Reed said. “And it will make them more competitive nationally.”

The grant is an Academic Research Enhancement Award, designed to stimulate research at primarily undergraduate institutions not typically recipients of NIH support. The research project will also involve Dr. Darrin Smith, associate professor of chemistry and director of undergraduate research at EKU; Drs. Allan Butterfield and Patrick Sullivan of the University of Kentucky faculty and Dr. Mark Bardgett at Northern Kentucky University. Labs at UK and NKU will be utilized especially in summer months.

Much of the research at EKU will take place in the University’s state-of-the-art New Science Building, which opens to students in January 2012. “We will have the space and the equipment there to better carry out this work. There’s no way we could fit this project in our current lab space.”

Students in Reed’s labs have performed 80 percent of the proposed studies: 2D gel electrophoresis, Western blotting, data and image analysis, etc. A consultant will train a graduate student in animal surgeries, encompassing the final 20 percent of the project.

“This training will enable the performance of animal surgeries at EKU, which will in turn promote more interdisciplinary research collaborations between investigators at EKU,” Reed said.

Reed credited EKU’s Division of Sponsored Programs, particularly Assistant Director Tiffany Hamblin, for its assistance with the grant proposal.

Reed joined the EKU faculty in 2008 and earned international recognition last year for her research on Alzheimer’s and cognitive impairment. The 2010 Hermann Esterbauer Award for lipid peroxidation recognized the research she conducted as part of her doctoral degree dissertation at the University of Kentucky.

Published on November 10, 2011

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