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Columbia engineer part of team to receive $6.2 million DOD grant for blast research

New York, NY October 14, 2010 A team of biomedical engineers from Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, and Duke University has been awarded a $6.25 million dollar, five-year Multi University Research Initiative (MURI) grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to study the effects of blast waves on the neural circuitry of the brain.

Given the nature of modern warfare and the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), blast-induced traumatic brain injury (TBI) has become the signature wound of ongoing U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. IEDs are also used to target civilian populations in acts of terrorism around the world. Therefore, understanding the effect of blast waves on the brain has become a critical focus of both U.S. military and civilian research. The long-term impact of the funded research will be to learn more about how to protect both soldiers and civilians from TBI caused by a blast.

"A major outcome from this multidisciplinary, multi-university research initiative will be the definition of safety corridors for blast loading," said Barclay Morrison, Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, who is leading the efforts at Columbia University. "These safety corridors will define parameters such as the duration and magnitude of the blast pressure that the brain can withstand before its normal function is altered."

"These quantitative criteria will provide critical information absolutely fundamental to the design of effective helmets and armor to mitigate the blast threat," adds David F. Meaney, the Solomon R. Pollack Professor and chair of Bioengineering leading the efforts at the University of Pennsylvania.

A second important outcome will be identification of the mechanisms causing dysfunction of neural circuits following a blast. In addition, studying the effect of blast over time will shed light on the recovery time necessary to regain normal physiological function of neural circuits both in vitro and in vivo. Dale Bass, Associate Research Professor, Biomedical Engineering, and director of the Injury and Orthopaedic Biomechanics Laboratory, who is leading the efforts at Duke University points out that "in the long term, this information will reduce the societal costs, both human and economic, associated with blast traumatic brain injury."

Traumatic loading of the brain initiates a series of pathobiological changes that result in both immediate and delayed effects on neural function ranging from mild disorientation to death. The funded collaboration, "Blast-Induced Thresholds for Neuronal Networks" (BITNeT), will seek to identify the precise blast loading conditions that disrupt brain function at multiple levels, ranging from the delicate connections between neurons (e.g., synapses) to whole brain function. The research team was assembled with expertise at these multiple scales, and the integration of the different disciplines within a single research program offers a new and important approach for understanding and, eventually, preventing blast-induced TBI. Once completed, this research will show when blast events caused by IEDs or acts of terrorism can disrupt the wiring or strength of connections among brain circuits, if these alterations in the brain circuits will affect behaviors such as learning and memory, and may point out new directions for improving outcome in soldiers and civilians after blast-induced TBI.


Contact: Holly Evarts
Columbia University

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