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Kessler Foundation awarded more than $500,000 in grants by NJ Commission on Brain Injury Research

WEST ORANGE, N.J.The New Jersey Commission on Brain Injury Research awarded two grants to scientists at Kessler Foundation to study emotional processing deficits in people with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the effects of aerobic exercise on memory impairments after TBI. The grants exceeded $500,000.

"With the support of the Commission, we look forward to expanding our knowledge of how the brain functions after brain injury and developing treatments that improve the function of individuals with TBI," said Nancy Chiaravalloti, Ph.D., director of TBI and Neuropsychology & Neuroscience Research at Kessler Foundation. "Aerobic exercise, if proven effective, is cost-effective, natural and readily available, so individuals have control of their rehabilitation. These studies incorporate brain imaging at the new Neuroimaging Center at Kessler Foundation, which shows the importance of gathering objective data to make innovative rehabilitation interventions widely accessible."

Jeanne Lengenfelder, Ph.D., assistant director of Neuropsychology Research, was awarded $397,941 for three years to evaluate impaired emotional processing in individuals with TBI (CBIR13IRG026). Unable to recognize facial expressions and social cues, they often have difficulty maintaining personal relationships. Dr. Lengenfelder and Research Scientist Helen Genova, Ph.D., co-investigator of the study, believe that diffuse axonal injury, the primary damage in TBI, damages connections between brain regions essential for emotional processing. Using three neuroimaging techniquesdiffusion tensor imaging (DTI), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at rest and fMRI during task performancethey will evaluate the extent to which emotional processing deficits in TBI are due to abnormalities in structural and functional connectivity. Brain scans at the Neuroimaging Center at Kessler Foundation will show the damage to structures critical to emotional processes and the effects on functional brain activation.

Victoria Leavitt, Ph.D., research scientist, received a $170,296 grant for two years to study the effect of aerobic exercise on memory in individuals with TBI (CBIR13PIL013). She and co-investigator James Sumowski, Ph.D., research scientist, collected pilot data in individuals with multiple sclerosis that showed the efficacy of a 12-week program of aerobic exercise versus stretching to improve memory. The goals are to improve memory and increase the volume of the hippocampusthe part of the brain that forms and stores memory. Brain scans will be taken before and after the aerobics treatment at the Neuroimaging Center at Kessler Foundation. This is the first study to examine the effects of aerobic exercise in people with TBI.

Kessler Foundation opened its Neuroimaging Center in May 2013. It is one of the only free-standing research organizations with an imaging center on site that is dedicated solely to research. Equipped with a 3T Siemens Skyra Scanner, researchers now have the ability to capture images of the brain and spinal cord. The Center is designed to accelerate research advances, collect objective data and increase national and international collaborations.

Drs. Chiaravalloti and Lengenfelder have faculty appointments in the department of physical medicine & rehabilitation at UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School.


Contact: Lauren Scrivo
Kessler Foundation

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