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Kessler Foundation scientists awarded New Jersey grants for brain injury research

WEST ORANGE, N.J.Two neuroscientists at Kessler Foundation received grants from the New Jersey Commission on Brain Injury Research. Helen Genova, Ph.D., research scientist in Neuropsychology & Neuroscience Research was awarded a three-year Individual Research Grant totaling $462,103. Starla Weaver, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Research, received a three-year Fellowship Research Grant for $199,764. Kessler Foundation conducts cognitive and mobility rehabilitation research in brain injury, spinal cord injury, stroke and multiple sclerosis.

Nancy Chiaravalloti, Ph.D., director of Traumatic Brain Injury and Neuropsychology & Neuroscience Research, commented, "We are pleased to have the support of the Commission for these important studies. Expanding our knowledge of how TBI affects brain function will help us to devise more effective strategies for cognitive rehabilitation."

Dr. Genova is interested in the long-term cognitive dysfunction that can cause disability after brain injury. While some recover over time, a significant number of individuals show continued impairment and even progressive cognitive decline. The identification of an accurate and reliable predictor of cognitive outcome would help to guide patients and families through the recovery process, but such a predictor has eluded investigators. Dr. Genova will apply a new neuroimaging technique, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), to the study of the cognitive effects of TBI. DTI has proven to be a highly sensitive measure of diffuse axonal injury and white matter integrity, but few studies have applied DTI to the study of cognitive deficits in people more than two years post TBI. Delineating the relationship between diffuse axonal injury and cognitive impairment could transform the initial approach to rehabilitation and enable clinicians to provide patients and families with prognostic information regarding cognitive recovery. Dr. Genova's project is "The longitudinal examination of the relationship between white matter pathology & cognitive impairment in traumatic brain injury using diffusion tensor imaging."

Dr. Weaver's interest is in chronic cognitive deficits that are a major cause of disability after TBI. Her research focuses on executive function, which is the ability to organize thoughts and activities, prioritize tasks, manage time efficiently, and make decisions. Developing rehabilitation interventions that improve executive function will minimize disability and aid performance of daily activities necessary for independent living. Task switching, i.e., the ability to switch between two simple tasks, has been found to be the best predictor of performance of tasks related to executive function. Dr. Weaver will compare the effects of task-switching in individuals with TBI and controls to determine whether this type of intervention can provide lasting benefits. She will use functional MRI to compare patterns of cerebral activation with task switching in both groups. Dr. Weaver's project is "The effects of task switching training on traumatic brain injury."

Drs. Genova, Weaver and Chiaravalloti 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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