In FY09, the University of Texas at Dallas Center for BrainHealth was awarded $750,000 in congressionally-directed grant funding to research brain performance enhancement in America’s fighting men and women through the use of state-of-the-art virtual reality technologies. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Representative Pete Sessions (TX-32) were both instrumental in securing the funds. Thanks to the efforts of Senator Hutchison, the Center has been awarded an additional $350,000 in FY2010 (pending final passage of the LHHS appropriations bill by Congress).
The Center’s study focuses on maximizing brain resilience and repair in soldiers, but the cutting-edge nature of the research also holds treatment promise for patients with sports-related concussions as well as brain diseases that affect motor function (such as Parkinso n’s), sensory integration (such as autism), multiple sclerosis, and many others.
Funded through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, BrainHealth’s research employs a highly immersive multisensory brain-training program integrating haptics (involving the body’s sense of touch and feel), vision, and audition. A robotic virtual environment (hrVR) is used to strengthen brain performance, including building brain resilience and maximizing brain function. BrainHealth scientists predict the grant-funded research will show that the human brain can be trained to reduce response time in incredibly stressful environments (such as the battlefield, when a soldier’s ability to react to sudden threats in fractions of a second may mean the difference between life and death), minimize error rate, and improve decision making and adaptation to unexpected events. Research aims are to increase a soldier’s mental resilience prior to deployment and to treat soldiers post-deployment suffering from mild brain injuries that result in deteriorated motor performance.
-Dr. Sandi Chapman
Director of the UTD Center for BrainHealth
Scientists note that the up-to-the-minute technology of the hrVR system, already installed and soon-to-be programmed at the Center for BrainHealth, will allow complete control of sensory cues and events and support collection of event-related response data. The team’s expertise draws from cognitive neuroscientists, brain imaging experts, engineers, physicists, and rehabilitation specialists. The ultra modern set up will also permit EEGs to measure brain response to treatment, pupil dilation, and blood tests to analyze hormone fluctuations as a way to monitor the brain’s response and resilience to stress.
The UT Dallas Center for BrainHealth team is now applying for funds to achieve specific goals for the first three years. In year one, cutting-edge haptic-robotic Virtual World software will be developed, pilot-tested, and refined; response measures will be established; and, normative databases will be created. In years two and three, the application of the new wave technology to the trainee resilience program and the treatment of soldiers with traumatic brain injuries and deteriorated motor performance will be initiated.
The seven-member team that will be leading BrainHealth’s HRSA-funded breakthrough hrVR system research is led by Sandi Chapman, Ph.D., founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth; John Hart, M.D., medical science director of the Center for BrainHealth; Russell Hulse, Ph.D., Nobel laureate and Associate Vice President for Strategic Initiatives at the University of Texas at Dallas; Miriam Reiner, Ph.D., professor at the Technion-Israel Institute and a BrainHealth collaborator; and, Mark Spong, Ph.D., professor and dean at the University of Texas at Dallas.
The Center for BrainHealth integrates research, treatment, academic training, and community outreach and is one of the few facilities in the United States to provide continued follow-up to enhance and monitor functional recovery in children and adults with brain injury, brain disease, and complications of normal aging. Through this innovative approach, the Center is discovering commonalities across brain maladies that are yielding similarities in brain repair mechanisms and resulting in new treatments for improving life for patients with brain injuries and diseases. One of the Center’s top priorities is achieving healthy mental aging by translating scientific findings into treatment. For more information about the Center for BrainHealth and its work, please visit www.centerforbrainhealth.org.
The University of Texas at Dallas, located at the convergence of Richardson, Plano and Dallas in the heart of the complex of major multinational technology corporations known as the Telecom Corridor®, enrolls more than 14,000 students. The school’s freshman class traditionally stands at the forefront of Texas state universities in terms of average SAT scores. The university offers a broad assortment of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs. For additional information about UTD, please visit the university’s web site at www.utdallas.edu.