The University of New Mexico’s Brain and Behavioral Health Institute (BBHI) has secured a five-year $11.6 million federal grant to find new ways of helping people recover from the catastrophic effects of stroke and traumatic brain injuries, the UNM Health Sciences Center announced Friday.
The funding will help establish a new Center for Brain Recovery and Repair that brings together researchers from across the UNM campus to focus on developing new treatments, said BBHI director Bill Shuttleworth, PhD, a Regents’ Professor in the UNM Department of Neurosciences.
“We now have an unprecedented opportunity to work together to address issues that affect thousands of New Mexicans who are living with consequences of acquired brain injury,” Shuttleworth said. “For many brain injury survivors leaving the hospital, it is devastating to be told that there are few treatments that will actually help restore brain circuits and long-term function. Recent advances in brain science mean that we should be able to change that, and improve lives in a meaningful way.”
The competitive grant, which is renewable for up to 15 years, will support five junior faculty members to launch new research into brain stimulation techniques and ways of regenerating brain tissue. “This is one of BBHI’s key achievements to date,” he said.
Shuttleworth credited input and support from the New Mexico Brain Network, a coalition of patient advocacy groups, with helping to shape the new center’s research agenda.
“They helped us develop a meaningful program,” Shuttleworth said, adding that network representatives will be included in steering committees to help shape the center’s development.
The grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences will also help build new preclinical and clinical cores to help scientists secure expanded research funding from the National Institutes of Health, Shuttleworth says.
Strokes and traumatic brain injuries are leading causes of death and disability, and survivors commonly deal with significant loss of motor function and cognitive disability, Shuttleworth said.
“Holding down jobs and maintaining relationships can be major challenges,” he noted. “That requires new thinking. We have a program that is trying to understand how to do that in the laboratory and also working with patients to see whether these things might work.”
BBHI, established in 2007, takes a multidisciplinary approach to attacking complex brain-related problems, bringing together clinicians and researchers from the departments of Neurology, Neurosurgery, Neurosciences and Psychiatry and Behavioral Science in the UNM School of Medicine, as well as from other UNM departments.
“This grant will have a big impact across campus,” Shuttleworth said. “ We’re working with a large number of faculty and community stakeholders that are excited about the possibilities.”