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Children's Hospital Lands $1.9 Million Grant To Study Acute Brain Injury

Children with acute brain injury account for roughly 10 percent of all hospital admissions in the U.S. and half of all childhood deaths, but one Pittsburgh researcher believes the emphasis should be on rehabilitation as opposed to survival rates.

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh physician-scientist Dr. Ericka Fink landed a $1.9 million grant Thursday to study early rehabilitation therapies on children with acute brain injury.

“Currently, the mortality rate in most P.I.C.U’s in these centers is less than 5 percent, even approaching 2 percent,” she said. “Now that we’ve become more successful in saving lives, we wanted to improve the quality of life of these patients and families.”

The pediatric intensive care unit currently treats brain injuries through supportive care—patient stabilization and consistent monitoring. But Fink believes exposing patients to speech, physical and emotional therapies early on in treatment could lead to better quality of life for the patients.

“Only a small percentage of patients are receiving these supports early on in their stay,” she said. “And there’s evidence in adult medicine, and also in the animal literature actually, that supports early rehabilitation strategies to improving outcomes that are important patients and families.”

Fink, along with Dr. Craig Smith of the Children’s Hospital of Chicago, will begin enrolling children 3- to 17-years-old with varying degrees of injury into the study next year. Some will be exposed to neurotherapies based on their cognitive ability, while others will receive standard treatment.

Fink said this 3-year study is the first of its kind.

“There’s really no evidence to support its use in children,” she said. “So this will be filling a huge hole. There’s a lot to learn. There’s a lot more that I think we could be doing to optimize outcomes now that we’re able to save so many children.”

Brain injuries are the leading cause of death and disability amongst children, and it’s estimated that 1.5 million Americans sustain some sort of brain injury each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Falls and motor vehicle accidents account for more than half of all brain injuries in the U.S.

The grant was provided by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.

The Erie, PA native has been a fellow in the WESA news department since May 2013. Having earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from Duquesne University, he is now pursuing an M.A. in multi-media management. Michael describes his career aspiration as "I want to do it all in journalism."
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