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UM Brain Injury Research to Benefit Athletes, Military

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MISSOULA -

Professional athletes and members of the military could soon benefit from traumatic brain injury research at the University of Montana.

Two UM scientists recently earned a $300,000 grant from the NFL and General Electric as part of a national project on brain health.

UM scientists have identified a protein in blood that's connected to how the brain reacts after a traumatic injury.

They said their research could help doctors better diagnose and treat brain injuries.

Assistant Research Professor of Biomedical Sciences at UM, Tom Rau, said they discovered levels of a certain protein in rats' blood dropped off after a traumatic brain injury.

Then, they did the same test on human tissue.

"When we stained the brain tissue, we kind of found the same thing that we'd seen in the rats, that this XCT had dropped off," Rau said.

This means the protein levels can serve as a marker for when a person has healed from a brain injury.

"Without having that, you don't know when it's safe for an athlete or a soldier or anyone to go back to their normal activity."

Rau said up until recently, doctors haven't been able to diagnose brain injury patients on a molecular level.

"They can say, well you have memory loss or you have neurological impairment, you have balance issues…"

Rau said doctors do know athletes and military members who've already had a brain injury are the most at risk.

"They do know, without a doubt, if you have not sufficiently recovered, and you get another brain injury, it's much much worse," he said.

Now, with the help of the grant money, Rau said they'll test more human samples from emergency room patients at St. Patrick Hospital.

"And then, obviously the long term goal is hopefully treatment," said Assistant Research Professor Sarj Patel.

Patel said they hope treatment options will come after they figure out why the protein levels decrease after a brain injury.

"It's definitely going to be an issue that we need to really understand and address for the health of the whole population," Patel said.

Patel said it's also important to note that traumatic brain injury can stem from something as simple as falling on the ice.

"We really don't understand the molecular mechanisms that are initiated by just simple falls like that."

The NFL and GE awarded grant money to 16 organizations across the country for brain injury research.

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