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Shining New Light on Brain Injury

A computer-modeled image of the human brain in profile, against a black background
Endowed giving from UCLA supporters is driving research into the effects and treatments of traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Across campus, researchers are carrying out pioneering work powered by endowed giving. This important form of support provides a reliable funding source to individuals and teams — ensuring they have the resources they need to make discoveries that can transform people’s lives.

Forging Vital Connections

One scholar conducting this work is Mayumi Prins ’91, Ph.D. ’97, a professor of neurosurgery with the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a member of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute. With the help of the Brain Injury Research Program endowment — funded by multiple donors with lead support from Marilyn, M.A. ’70 and Austin Anderson, P ’03, ’08 — Dr. Prins and her colleagues are seeking new ways to help patients recover and adapt after serious brain injury.

Dr. Prins serves as the director of UCLA’s Brain Injury Research Center (BIRC) — affiliated with the Department of Neurosurgery at UCLA Health — which focuses on traumatic brain injury (TBI). This field is constantly evolving, thanks to technological advances and collaborations with researchers in a variety of disciplines. Dr. Prins is excited to be part of driving this new connected era in research.

“Our vision is one where we have much more integration — a culture of openness and collaboration,” says Dr. Prins.  “We always keep in mind that it’s not about us, it’s about the patients. At the end of the day, we want to succeed through our patients doing better.”

Bringing Together the Best Minds

“Just as brain function depends on strong connections, so the same could be said for the field of neuroscience research,” says Dr. Prins. “Endowed funding helps us foster a new generation of neuroscientists and ensure they are working in an interdisciplinary fashion, connecting and partnering with experts in other areas. Through these collaborations, they make surprising discoveries and open up new possibilities for the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of brain injury.”

At the BIRC, neurologists work alongside therapists and sports medicine specialists in the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program — which also is supported by endowed giving. Together, they study how exercise can affect the brains of athletes and their ability to recover from TBIs and concussions.

The BIRC partners closely with UCLA’s Operation Mend, supporting its mission of providing healing to post-9/11 military personnel, veterans and families. Research by Dr. Prins — along with others, including her BIRC colleague Dr. Christopher Giza, professor of pediatric neurology and neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine — informs the approach to working with individuals with TBI. In addition, professor emeritus of neurosurgery Dr. David Hovda partnered with the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff to draw up military guidelines for the management of TBI and post-traumatic stress disorder in members of the Armed Forces.

Meanwhile, a post-baccalaureate student, Ellie Pourasgari, is examining the effects of early life stress on the outcomes of traumatic brain injury. These types of injury can result in greater risk-taking behaviors, but how do they affect children who have already experienced significant stress? This research is exploring how unpredictable stress during childhood can alter the normal development of stress responses following a TBI.

Dr. Zoe Teton, a neurosurgery resident, and Sydney Bennett, a post-baccalaureate student, are both members of Dr. Prins’ research team. They are investigating the effects of TBI on adolescents, with a focus on the glymphatic system — the brain’s means of cleaning house. Failure to clear protein and waste can contribute to the onset of neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. The scientists hope to uncover how brain injury might factor into this process.

In addition to research, the Brain Injury Research Program endowment also funds the annual UC & Western Neurotrauma Symposium. This gathering unites students and faculty from across the University of California and the Western U.S. to exchange ideas, share their research findings and develop new working relationships.

Endowed giving provides a strong basis for UCLA research efforts and neuroscience is just one of the areas seeing benefit. This powerful form of philanthropy makes a vast array of exciting work possible, and will help unlock impactful discoveries in the years to come.

To explore how you can support neuroscience research at UCLA, contact Chantelle Eastman.

A woman in a white lab coat, with computer screens behind her, holds up and examines a translucent slide with images of brains on it.

Endowed giving helps power the research of Dr. Mayumi Prins and her colleagues as they investigate the impacts of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and seek more effective recovery methods.

Group of female college students play lacrosse on a grassy field with a brick building in the background

Researchers at the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center and the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program study athletes to better understand how exercise affects recovery from TBI.

A military veteran with facial scars and his family smile at the camera while standing in front of a red, white and blue quilt hanging on a wall.

Discoveries by the Brain Injury Research Center help shape the treatments that UCLA Operation Mend delivers to post-9/11 military personnel and veterans with TBIs.

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