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Researchers at West Virginia University aim to find solutions to help traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients improve their everyday quality of life.

Cole Vonder Haar, an assistant professor of behavioral neuroscience in the WVU Department of Psychology, has received a five-year, $989,210 award from the National Institutes of Health to investigate potential treatments for psychiatric deficits arising from chronic TBI.

The release said more than 2.8 million traumatic brain injuries occur each year, and most research is focused on the immediate effects of TBI and preventing further damage.

Vonder Haar and his team, however, aspire to address long-term effects — behavioral changes in decision-making, impulsivity and attention span.

“Even if we were to come up with a catch-all cure for acute TBI tomorrow, it would still leave many people dealing with these really long-term, chronic consequences,” Vonder Haar said. “What we are investigating is the potential to treat patients when their symptoms do not go away.”

Vonder Haar and his research team, including WVU Undergraduate Neuroscience Program Coordinator Kris Martens and University of Pittsburgh Associate Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Amy Wagner, are pursuing three potential ways of addressing the chronic, long-term consequences of TBI.

The first approach will consider patients’ sensitivities to the environment, identifying environmental factors which could be engaged in rehabilitative treatment. The second is pharmacological, testing the effects of therapeutic drugs. The third is a neuromodulation approach, which involves indirect stimulation to the brain through the scalp.

“We hope to learn a lot about what that damage causes, how that translates to these functional impairments and how these treatments might be able to address them,” Vonder Haar said.

The five-year study will begin in June.

— Email: wholdren@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @WendyHoldren

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