UTA researcher investigates how TBI influences the way neurons communicate

University of Texas at Arlington researcher is investigating the ways that trauma to the brain (TBI) may affect the ability of surrounding cells to communicate with each other.

Ashfaq Adnan (professor of mechanical engineering) was awarded a grant of $375,800 from the Office of Naval Research. His research is part an international research grant supervised by the University of Wisconsin-Madison as part of the Physics-based neutralization of Threats to Human Tissues and Organs (PANTHER) 3 Program. Their collaborative study focuses on the mechanism, detection and prevention of TBI. The grant received close to $5 million in total funding.

Three components make up neural cells: the synapse as well as the dendrites, as well as the axon. They are connected with glial cell which are situated close to neuronal and have elements that allow them to function.

Adnan’s research is focused primarily on the axon as it bears the brunt the mechanical forces. He will be studying the interactions between glial and neural cells, and how they communicate. He and his team will work to develop an extensive model to understand ionic activity across the neural cells and how damage can affect communication.

Brain injuries can be caused by traumatic forces, like blasts or helmet-to-helmet collisions impact the head. Secondary injuries are difficult to detect, however primary injuries can be easily spotted. Damage to cells may also cause damage that blocks the communication between cells. Secondary injuries are not evident immediately and may not be apparent for days. They can develop in various ways, and often follow non-mechanical paths.

Adnan said that PANTHER grants them access to data in a unique way and allows them to communicate with some of the most famous researchers in the field. “This research addresses the crucial topic traumatic brain injury, but I hope it will result in more. This research could have a significant impact on bicyclists, military personnel and even sports. Because it covers almost every scenario that might suffer TBI the broad scope is important.

The members of the PANTHER 3 project team include researchers from Brown University, Iowa State University and Team Wendy, a leading manufacturer of high-tech protection equipment. ONR, Robert Morris University and Colorado School of Mines are among the other PANTHER members.

Researchers’ greatest reward is their ability to improve lives. Dr. Adnan’s multi-faceted approach to understanding the mechanisms behind, modeling, detecting and the prevention of TBI is bound to save lives for soldiers in combat, workers at construction sites and first responders in disaster areas and athletes on the field of play.”

Erian Armanios is Chair. UTA’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department

This is Adnan’s fourth major grant in this area in 2021. It is worth more than $4.1 Million. In total, he has close to $5 million in grants that are active, including:

  • A three-year, $1.5 million grant from ONR to develop advanced 3D-printed materials for “smart” protection from impact and directed energies;
  • a three-year, $1.1 million grant from ONR to study “smart” sensors for protective equipment in a dynamic environment
  • ONR gives around $945,000 to study brain injury at the cellular and tissue levels;
  • an $831,000 grant from ONR to purchase high-speed camera equipment as well as a realistic “phantom” head model.

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Gemma Wilson

Gemma is a journalism graduate with keen interest in covering business news – specifically startups. She has as a keen eye for technologies and has predicted quite a few successful startups over the last couple of years.

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